this must be the place....goin strong , yeah baby!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Antecedents and Opinions // Kill Rock Stars

Some of the piss and vinegar of this post has been taken out due to the fact that when I first got to the computer full of it (piss and vinegar...maybe something else, too, we'll let Chris decide...) I had to help my grandma print out a latke recepie because her printer wasn't working. Anyways I am in Hawaii! Fuck yeah! It's my second day here and my mind is still racing around in circles like "do this, do this" but I should be a much mellower person by the time I get back in the ATX. This trip could not have come at a better time for me, and its been a bit different than previous trips already. I saw a Hawaiian Monk Seal which is an endangered species. It was rad. It came up on the beach and the seal patrol came and put caution tape around it. I was like "wow, this is really amazing" and hung out watching the seal for a while. Eventually it went back out to sea, and I was like, "that was an amazing and finished experience," but then a few minutes later it came back on shore about 30 feet down the beach, and the seal patrol set up new caution tape around it and the same people who were watching it (minus me) set up shop behind the caution tape and continued to watch it. Also, some people up on the balcony of our hotel clapped the first time it went out to sea which seemed pretty fucking dumb to me, but hey, people are dumb.

Something awful happened that I didn't realize until this morning (day 2 of my trip). The night before I stayed up all night ripping CDs so I would have some choice tunes to listen to on the trip. I got a bunch of stuff I really wanted to listen to and a nice variety. No jazz this year. I can't listen to jazz on the beach. I've tried, and with a margin of sucess in the past, but the beach is not a place where really enjoy "challenging myself" with the music I am listening to. Not at this point, anyways.

So I ripped all this music, expecting that I would stay up all night and then sleep on the plane (didn't work) and then what did I do but leave this case with all the CDs on the plane! Fucked, right? Well, first off, like I said, I didn't even realize I had left all the CDs until this morning. Yesterday I was just saying what's up to people and playing my ukulele and a tiny bit of swimming. A couple asides before this story gets finished...I'm reading "A Confederacy of Dunces" which is like one of the best books I have ever read. It's truly amazing and I'm really enjoying it. Also, I did maybe the smartest thing I've done this year by bringing my 4 track to the beach with me. Unless you're my roommate I don't know how you would know how you would know this, but I've been having this problem with my writing solo songs lately. I gradually got stuck writing less and less musically interesting things until eventually I wrote this string of like 8 songs that were only 3 or maybe 4 chords and then I just stopped writing. I guess you would call that writers block, but fortunately it corrisponds with some new X-Rays songs, so I didn't feel totally lost.

But back to the topic, I left my (burned) CDs on the plane and I felt this horrible horrible feeling of loss. I was counting on listening to those CDs on the beach. I have my computer with me which has some stuff on it that I could rip onto CDs and listen to, but the good shit on there I have already listened to at work a billion times. The stuff I burned for the beach is stuff I haven't listened to much off my parents computer. They just got a bunch (80gigs?)of pretty good stuff on there from this one guy too, so its not like "all the shit my brother listens to" (which is not bad). The thing I am listening to right now is Elliot Smith. I had never heard any of his records besides Figure 8 before, and maybe some of XO, although I don't know why, becuase I really like what I'd heard of him. Anyways, I think I picked it out because there are great melodies and also chord changes, which is something I'm trying to get back to (I'm pretty sure its working, too). Ukulele is great for that too, because it limits you, and the part of your brain that wants to play root chords is subverted. Pretty sure I heard somewhere that Paul McCartney wrote all of his songs on ukulele.

But back to the topic. I felt horrible about these lost CD-Rs. Really awful. But about an hour after I figured out I had left them on the plane, my dad told me he had gotten a call and they had them at the airport! So I felt better, and I did have like 5 CDs, including Elliot Smith, in my backpack seperately, so I have some stuff to listen to today until we go to pick them up tomorrow.

Now, also up shit creek musically is my buddy who I see on the beach every year. He left his 160 gig Ipod on the plane. I don't think he's ever going to see it again, but he said something rather curious to me, which was "I don't care as long as I get it back for the plane ride home." Dude's got a 160 gig Ipod but only brought it to his 3 week Hawaiian vacation for the plane ride? I think it a) goes to show the value of having something that other people don't value and b) this guy was bent out of shape for sure, but I find it interesting that he didn't even want it back because it was worth money (I'm sure his family will just replace it, which I don't take issue with), and he didn't want it back so he had shit to listen to at the beach, he just wanted it back for the plane ride. It's just interesting how people interface with things I guess.

So that's my travelogue, now for some opinion. And I'll try and keep this short, being as though I'm burning daylight. I went and saw Ian McKaye speak a few weeks ago and it was very interesting his perspective, and his stories about his life were funny but he kept hammering home this "music is free" point that I take issue with. Ok, and we are going to ignore the blatent hypocracy that I listen to music that has been pirated, because this is more about "the state of the union" than "this is my ideological standpoint and everyone should follow it." His big piece of evidence that "music is free, hey everyone go download music!" was that he went and played in South America with his current band The Earlies and the kids in the big crowd there were all singing the words to his songs, despite the fact that he had no South American distribution, and I think the songs weren't available on ITunes or something (I'm assuming that for the purpose of the story making any sense at all.) So he was like "hey how do you guys know the words??" and they got sheepish and he said "hey you downloaded my songs didn't you!" and they were like "yeah," even more sheepishly, and Ian was like "Rock and Roll!!!" and played the show and everyone had a great time. Which is great if you are Ian MacKaye, right? And without knowing the details, I think the basic tenaments of what that guy does and is about is cool. But its hardly the whole story.

Let me tell you some things about music that aren't free, and I don't see a way they ever will be, short of government grants, which maybe everyone should collectively be pursuing. Recording a record is not free. Mixing and mastering is not free. Making physical copies of your record is not free. Vinyl right now costs about twice what it cost to make 5 years ago. If someone sells you a 7" with any artwork at all at $4, realize they are basically selling it to you at cost, which means if they put it out themselves, they have to sell out (min run 300) to recoup all their money. Legal venues (aka guaranteed no cop trouble) are not free to maintain. You want to book a place reasonably close to downtown where you wont get shut down over SXSW, one thing that has become clear the past few months is youd better either be a tricky motherfucker or have some real cash behind you. And even then there's only so many spots for the tricky motherfuckers.

All this is just to point out that, while you (or I) may be listening to music for free, and while the artist may or may not be personally comfortable with it, either because they think it is beneficial to their own career (Ian MacKaye? at least half of his explaination) or because they just accept it as how things are these days, it is in fact, how things are these days. And the other side of it is I've been working this data entry job the past few months that would be completely untenable if it weren't for all the external hard drives worth of free music I got from my friends. So I'm sympathetic....this is all just to make a point that is still forthcoming about what constitutes a sustainable model for artists at this point.

First another aside: I think if the major labels were really smart, and maybe its not too late for them to do this, (and this is certainly something I would hate to see happen), instead of going after publicity with these huge fines on certain individuals for downloading music, they would try and sue everyone who downloaded music for like $100, or something where it wasn't a figure so high that it was obviously unfair and being used as a scare tactic. Sort of like a reverse class action lawsuit. It would depend on being able to minimize litigation costs, which also may not (is hopefully not) possible.

But so ok, what is a record at this point? Its your "work of art," but professionally its more like your business card that the product you are selling. I read somewhere Bradford Cox trying to make the case that Deerhunter wasn't this huge band. "We are a cult band! Call me when we've sold 50,000 records." Or something like that. That's a paraphrase. But the idea of selling 50,000 records making you a big band is so completely outdated. I have a lot of respect for that band, which is its own post. I was blindsided recently by a friend who said he hated their guts and thought they were a fake band. But I disagree, even if I do agree that they are (or at this point it seems more accurate to say, were) total publicity hounds. For comparisons sake, I'm pretty sure that Blonde Redheads record after Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons (which was that?) sold about 50,000 copies, but that was like 2004 maybe? Totally different world now. But yeah, if you are an artist making money on your record (which can be very expensive to make) is a tricky motherfucking thing. And you might be able to get some stuff ($$) from Itunes, but it doesn't compare as a % to the money that you aren't making because someone is downloading it for free. I read somewhere Death Cab for Cutie talking about their first record, which I believe they put out themselves, saying to each other "dudes, you think we can sell 500 of these?" And they decided to give it a shot. Selling 500 records is astronomical at this point.

OK, I have to cut myself off, I guess there will probably (hopefully?) be a part 2 to this post, but like I said...burning daylight...

let me just say first...
I think there is good and bad that is coming out of this. Good: people who care about music are more educated about it than ever before. This means more people who know what they are doing are starting bands, I assume. Bad: There is no fucking money in music at all. Why is this bad? When did everything become about money all the sudden right? Making music costs money. Touring costs money. You want to booka tour by yourself, the first time you go out you may do everything right (I think RXR did a pretty good job) and you are going to lose money. Think about are you supposed to get more than $60 a night in a town where no one knows who you are? And you got 4 mouths to feed and a gas tank? That's not counting rent, which went at great lengths to get covered (also we went out in August so it was a little easier to do this.) And gas may be $1.50 right now, but I mean that's gotta be temporary don't you think? People want to tell you that bands don't make their money on records, but its OK, because they make it on the road, but show me those bands. Those bands are Deerhunter. Or not even Deerhunter, but look at it this way....if you want to save up your money and go on tour as your vacation for 3 weeks sleeping on floors and eating shit all the time, that's one thing and its a great experience, but if you want to do the DIY thing to the point where it's sustainable I'm just asking you to show me the model where that actually works.

And I do have a solution, which is that the bands have to themselves become the booking agents in order to setup shows for themselves out of town that actually pay something, but I'm skeptical about this too, because it assumes that the bands can play enough shows locally with payouts for out of town bands without killing their own draw. We will see if it works, or if you really do at this point need someone big to latch on to (please god no.)

Also, there is maybe nothing as fun on this planet as touring so please no one be discouraged for any reason by this from doing it just for fun, because it is and it makes you a better person too in a lot of different ways you would never even imagine without doing it first.

Anyways aloha!

1 comment:

  1. DIY model equals Phil Elverum. He is also no better off financially, I'm sure, than he was when he put out his NUMBER ONE PITCHFORK RATED ALBUM 9 YEARS AGO. And do you think he minds?

    Next: you are not you (below). This is hypothetical, however pointed it sounds...

    And shouldn't it just be the case that if you aren't 'good enough' you shouldn't 'make money', if, after all, you value money & are operating on a market economy? then why be surprised when these issues come up?

    How many albums do you have to sell to be happy? How many fans at each show to be successful? If these are the rules yr. operating on then onwards to the market definition of success. Lot of 'what ifs' there.

    I imagine when you look back on your tour, the last thing you think of was 'oh, that was the show where we made 12 dollars each' as opposed to 'oh the girl stage left who was really cute who i kissed in the bathroom'.

    the 'music is free' phenomenon I haven't heard too much about. But I would like to ask that guy what he means by 'free'.

    Copyright laws are severely outdated.