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A manifesto

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Several weeks ago Z pointed Church and I to an article over at Something Awful, titled The 8 Most Awful Minorities. Specifically, this page which talks about nerdcore.

To quote,

The genre amounts to a bunch of people aping that MC Hawking joke site from like 1998, but that hasn’t stopped Internet losers from falling head over Mass Heals for nerd rappers. Get a microphone in front of a CS major and you can rest assured that an unintentionally racist pantomime of thug tropes will come spilling out of their mouths.

Church’s reaction was a simple and elegant, “Meh. That makes us even.” I got a bit more verbose.

While the original comments were pointed at nerdcore specifically, I see it as an echo of other questions that have been floating around recently as the mainstream and underground try to grapple with the question of how to approach the alien world of geeks. We have existed outside their view for so long that now that our culture is bleeding through into theirs, they don’t know what to do with it. Consider this my attempt at shining a little light on the issue

To whom it may concern,

This is ours. It is by us, for us, and about us. You are more then welcome to indulge in our world if you want, but you must understand that it is our world. There is no use in ridiculing our actions. If you do not understand what we are doing, then you are not one of us, and so this is not for you. Your ridicule only proves just how out of step you are with us. It only serves to show that you don’t get it.

What we do is not a joke, except when it is. It is not parody, except when it is. It makes sense to us and that is all it needs to do. This is not something that we will translate for you. We will not explain it to you. Not out of spite, but because it is something that you can only understand if you are one of us.

If you can not understand why we do what we do, then that is fine. This is not meant for you, it is meant for us. We do not ask you to understand. We do not ask you to come to terms with what we are doing. We simply ask that you leave alone those things that you do not understand. Pretend that we do not exist, that is fine with us. Do not try to explain us though. Do not try to understand where we come from or what motivates us. If you are not one of us, then you will never understand these things.

This is ours. It will always be ours. You will never grok it, unless you become one of us. Do not try to make it yours. Do not try to co-opt it for your own ends. If it inspires you to create your own thing, then fine. The thing that you create though is not the thing we have created. Do not pretend otherwise.

You are welcome to join us. Otherwise, leave us alone.

The Geek Community

I’ve created a page for the manifesto itself which can be found here. That link may be a little easier to send around.

Written by Matt

October 12th, 2007 at 10:13 pm

A moment of silence

without comments

Red Shipley has passed.

Don’t know who Red Shipley is? Then you don’t live in the DC area or central VA. And if you do, then you’re not a fan of old time country or bluegrass.

Shipley was the host of Stained Glass Bluegrass a show devoted to gospel country/bluegrass music, that ran on the local NPR station WAMU every Sunday morning, from 1982 until last month when WAMU moved all of their bluegrass shows over to HD Radio, and devoted its normal programming to repeats and national programing.

DC used to be an odd little town. Home of Duke Ellington and one of the first black mayors, it was christened ‘Chocolate City‘ by George Clinton. DC is also just outside of the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. In the 50s and 60s, DC was considered by some to be the folk capital of the US. Its location, where the south meats the north east, combined with the growing federal government, meant that it was a meeting point where the sophisticated intellectual folkies of the NE could run into the real deal, plain spoken, folks who had inspired the folk revival. Combine this with a thriving black community, and yes, DC used to be an odd little town.

This dichotomy was probably best shown on the radio. If memory serves, one radio station separated 88.5 FM from 90.1 FM. 88.5 was WAMU, an NPR station that devoted 3-6 PM M-F (one of the most sought after time slots in radio) to a show called Bluegrass Country up until sometime in the late 90s or early 00’s (I confess, I wasn’t paying attention when WAMU first betrayed its loyal bluegrass fans). I remember getting into bluegrass around ’96 or ’97, thanks to the wonderfully fun Leftover Salmon, and WAMU played a big part of that.

To be honest, I never listened to SGBG all that much. Occasionally I’d catch part of it and when I did, the radio dial would just rest there for as long as possible. I remember driving down to Warrenton, VA one Sunday morning to see Salmon play on a flat bed truck in front of the court house (that was a fun show), or may be it was the drive down to Charlottesville, VA to see Salmon’s guitarist/singer almost get arrested for encouraging people to slide down a muddy hill (that was also a fun show), either way, I spent the first part of the drive seeing just how far WAMU’s signal would last. As I recall, it made it a surprisingly long distance before giving out to static. And as I also recall, listening to Red was a wonderful way to greet Sunday.

Up a couple of skips on the dial was 90.1, better known to its fans as Jazz 90. It was run by the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and was quite possibly one of the greatest jazz radio stations to ever grace the air waves. I remember getting into Jazz in the early 90s. I asked a friend of mine how to get into a genre which seemed so daunting to a new comer like me. His advice was simple. Listen to Jazz 90. When you hear something you like, write down what the DJs tell you. 90.1 was another station that I would just randomly tune into only to have the dial just sit there while I listened to some great music. Sadly, Jazz 90 was the first of the two stations to go. The victim of budget cuts in the mid 90s, the station was sold to CSPAN. I’ve had a mild dislike of CSPAN ever since.

Putting the two stations side by side like this, I’m struck by their similarities. The most obvious example is the DJs. Both stations hired amazing DJs. Listening to these stations you got the sense that the DJs really loved the music they were playing. Not just that, but that they loved every song they played. That shows weren’t just thrown together, but that there was a real attempt to uncover gems that might have otherwise been forgotten. May be it is just because I didn’t know anything about either genre when I listened to the stations, but every song was new to me. And I never heard the same song twice. And it was all amazing.

More then just the music though, the DJs themselves were special. They all had this relaxed way of jamming a ton of information into a short span of time. Jazz 90 didn’t just tell you what album a given track was on, but told you every person who played on that track and what they were playing. So if you heard a track, and really liked the trumpet solo, you knew what artist to look out for the next time you made a trip to the record store, even if it wasn’t their album.

The bluegrass boys over at 88.5 were just as full of knowledge and nuggets of information. If you wanted to get into either genre, all you really needed to do was listen to those two stations with a pen and paper and you’d go broke buying a ton of amazing music.

While it will always be the DJs that I remember fondly for both of those stations, they have another thing in common. Both were public stations that created music that reflected this once wonderful little town. On one hand you have the black urban sounds of jazz, on the other the rustic sounds of bluegrass and early country. As the city grows, it has begun to loose that sense of history. Now with both stations, for all intents and purposes, gone, DC is a little bit further from what it used to be.

Written by Matt

October 8th, 2007 at 10:06 pm

Posted in other,Thoughts

Where I’m coming from

with one comment

Truth be told, I’m working on an idea. I’ve talked to a few folks about it and people seem to like it. I expect to have something up next week and I’ll go into it then. And yes, this one will happen. I’ve asked both Z and Church to give me a ration of shit if I don’t have something up soon.

That isn’t the point of this message, not directly at least. Tonight I was trying to express what my inspiration for this idea was and I just couldn’t come up with the right words. Later, I remembered something that I wrote over 10 years ago. I just scrounged a copy from an old email list where I had posted it and read it over. I think this gives a glimpse into where I’m coming from and I think it is important in understanding why I’m about to start this new project.

The piece was written shortly after I got home from seeing the H.O.R.D.E. tour outside Washington, DC.

For those not familiar with the tour, H.O.R.D.E. was a group of like minded bands, who had reached a point in their careers where they were getting to big to play the venues that they were already playing, but couldn’t land gigs at larger venues. This was largely to do with the fact that the bands received little radio attention. They, instead, had built their careers on endless touring. Their PR machine, as it were, was largely fans turning on friends and strangers when ever given the chance.

Groups that came out of this tour included phish, Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler, and the Dave Matthews Band, among a plethora of smaller bands that you’ve probably never heard of.

The show in question occurred on August 25th, 1995. This was a tumultuous year for what would eventually turn into the jamband scene. The year had started off with the meteoric rise of the Dave Matthews Band, a group that had always been a lightening rod in the scene (you either loved them or hated them, much like now). Followed shortly afterwards by a surge in mainstream interest in Blues Traveler, the driving force behind H.O.R.D.E., which culminated in the success of the singles Hook and Runaround.

There were a lot of questions about how the new interest in this nebulous young scene would effect the scene over all. The scene had gotten a taste of this a few years earlier when the Spin Doctors (who were on the first H.O.R.D.E. tour) had their time in the spot light. The Spins ended up bowing to label pressure; shortened their shows, limited their on stage experimentation, and focused their live shows on singles. There was a very real, and somewhat justified, fear that more bands would follow the Spins lead when faced with fame.

Because of the situation I’ve just outlined there was a certain animosity with in the scene towards new comers. People who were seen as ruining the little paradise we had created. Or were seen as being there for all the wrong reasons. The attacks seem juvenile now, but we were not the first scene to act this way and we weren’t the last.

The following are thoughts that I felt compelled to write after seeing this show, which directly address this tendency with in the scene. I’ve cleaned up misspellings, but that is all. I’ll be honest, parts of this piece make me cringe a little at my word choices and general inexperience as a writer. Interestingly enough though, this piece has probably generated more response then anything else I’ve written since. A lot of people agreed with what I wrote that night. And looking back, I realize that the ideas expressed here have shaped who I am and how I see the world around me, more then I had realized.

So, just read the below (or don’t), and file it away. Things will be a little clearer sometime next week.

Just got back from HORDE at the Nissian Pavilion. I realized something tonight as I danced to the music. Something I wanted to share cause it affects us all.
I’m usually like a lot of you at shows. I try to have a good time but with out flaw some idiot gets in my way or does something dumb and I get mad. Tonight was different though.
As I was dancing and I saw all the looks that basically said “what the hell are you doing?” I could only smile. Later I sort of realized why. See at all these shows are people who might piss you off. But also at all these shows are people who will leave the venue with jaw slack and mind reeling. Why? Cause they’ve just experienced the groove. That common bound that makes us travel long distances and spend tons of money. Their little worlds have been opened.
I remember when I first learned of the groove. It was over two shows actually phish 7/17/93 at Wolf Trap the first time i danced my ass off. and 7/25/93 my first HORDE where I realized Blues Traveler and phish weren’t the only bands that did this. Do you remember yours? Remember the feeling you got when they entered that first jam and you didn’t know what was happening? Remember the feeling you got the first time you fell totally in-sync with it all? When it all fit into place? At every show you go to. Someone out there is feeling those same feelings. They are going through the same thing.
So the next time that drunk pisses you off forget him/her and think of that person somewhere in that venue who’s just mesmerized by what is going on. And when you see new comers into the scene don’t bash them and say they bring problems. Some might, but some of them are going [through] what you were going through when you first got here. Let’s invite them in with open arms and teach them the ways. Tell them what it was like. Keep the stories alive. This is the next generation. I saw a lot of kids at this HORDE. Instead of thinking about little teeny boppers think of them as young minds. Think how much more fun your life would have been if you had found the groove earlier. I know I would have been a lot happier. We are the misfits of society let’s not separate ourselves with fighting but instead embrace ourselves and let each other know that we are not alone.
The spirit of the Dead did not die with Jerry. Nor is it being taken on by one band. It is being taken on by all the bands and the fans. The trip has not ended. The bus broke down and we had to get a new one. This trip will never end. Because it’s not a band but a music. And the music is in us. We are all on the bus. And were are all taking A long strange trip. So when someone gets on show them their seats and share your rations. They belong just as much as we do. Even if you’ve been on since the beginning.

Sorry for the length here. I came close to tears of Joy when I was driving home thinking of this and i couldn’t keep it to myself. Feel free to cross post this more. And I’m only on two of the lists that get this so if you wanna reply do it personally. Goodnight. And God Speed.

Matt

p.s.. I wonder if there is any connection between what i realized tonight and the fact that dancing to the tunes has never been easier or more fluid.

p.p.s.. And don’t think I didn’t realize my first HORDE happened 2 year and one month from tonight ;)

p.p.p.s.. To those who object to being called a Misfit. If given the chance would you tour with one band forever? (or a group of bands) Never work and just go to show after show? If you answer yes society thinks your a Misfit cause that just isn’t right. It’s not a bad thing it means you think for yourself and realize things they don’t.

Written by Matt

September 5th, 2007 at 10:44 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Rick Rubin profile in NYT

with one comment

An interesting profile of Rick Rubin in the New York Times can be found here.

The article gets into various things about Rubin’s life, but is largely about his new role as co-head of Columbia Records. For someone who has been involved in creating so much great music, it is interesting to see that, to my eyes at least, he’s just as clueless about the future of the music industry as the rest.

Here’s Rick’s solution for the ailing music industry,

Rubin has a bigger idea. To combat the devastating impact of file sharing, he, like others in the music business (Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine at Universal, for instance), says that the future of the industry is a subscription model, much like paid cable on a television set. “You would subscribe to music,” Rubin explained, as he settled on the velvet couch in his library. “You’d pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you’d like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home. You’ll say, ‘Today I want to listen to … Simon and Garfunkel,’ and there they are. The service can have demos, bootlegs, concerts, whatever context the artist wants to put out. And once that model is put into place, the industry will grow 10 times the size it is now.”

Of course, from the way they talk about it, this subscription service will either only involve the majors or will be dictated by the majors. Indies will either not be allowed to take part, or will have to play by the major’s rules.

Now, I’m not saying a plan like this will fail. It could definitely work for a certain segment of the market. It will also alienate another segment of the market, pushing them farther into the indies, which is one of the underlying issues that they are facing now. That people have greater access to independent music then they have ever had before. And as a result they are less likely to give the majors money, unless they see something of value to spend their money on.

No, if handled right, this idea could work to a certain degree. I just don’t think it is what will save the industry.

Of course Rick’s idea looks like freaking gold compared to the bright idea that his counterpart at Columbia, Steve Barnett, has come up with. “Asking” (which I can’t help but read as demanding) that Columbia artists hand over as much as 50% of “touring, merchandising and online revenue.”

I’m sorry, any artist who agrees to something like that, is a fool. And any manager who lets their artist agree to something like that, needs to be fired.

The interesting thing in all this talk about “saving the industry” is that everyone assumes that the levels of money generated by the industry over the last twenty odd years is a given. No one in the article looks at the drop in sales as a market correction.

I’d love to see a major label just get really desperate and go crazy. Slash the hell out of their in house staff to drop expenses to a bare minimum. Drop any groups that haven’t been able to build up dedicated followings. And then focus on slow growth of the followings that the rest of their artists have. After renegotiating contracts with their artists that will cause the artists to think twice about jumping ship. Basically just give up on charts and hype and focus on artists who will deliver smaller returns then the big names, but deliver steady consistent returns over the long haul. Once the market has stabilized and new proven business models have become more obvious, then may be they can think about dabbling in the bright lights again.

Judging by this article, the majors seem to have forgotten that they exist at the whim of consumers. No business has a right to exist or make money. They need to accept the market as it exists today and maneuver themselves into a position where they can leverage what they do have and stop holding on to what they’ve already lost.

The article does end with a quote from Rubin that carries truth,

“That’s the magic of the business,” he said. “It’s all doom and gloom, but then you go to a Gossip show or hear Neil [Diamond] in the studio and you remember that too many people make and love music for it to ever die. It will never be over. The music will outlast us all.”

The thing is that after reading this article I wonder how many people in the majors believe that they are the industry? The majors aren’t the industry.

Music and the industry will live on, that is true. Whether the majors are part of that or not, is up to them.

Written by Matt

September 3rd, 2007 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Crap.

without comments

So I was having a decent day today. Nothing amazing. I had a project at work that I was expecting to take hours, that only took about five minutes. Then there’s the saga that is Church’s new found internet celebrity status (more on that later). It was a decent day.

Then Karl went and fucked it all up.

Ultraklystron is taking a break from music.

The short of it is that while his life as a musician/producer is starting to take off, everything else is starting to fall apart. He’s being smart about it and putting music on hold until he gets his personal life sorted out. He’s going to release Rai‘s album and he may release his own album, Open Source Lyricist, if there’s enough interest. And then he’s going to focus on “the basics,” as he puts it.

I can respect his decision. I can even applaud him for it. I think it probably the right move for him to make. It still bums me out though.

Way back in January (god, has it only been months?) I posted an entry here where I basically said that nerdcore is a celebration of the nerd/geek lifestyle. In my eyes, Ultraklystron was the strongest example of this. Nerdcore is still in an embryonic stage where it is searching for a voice to call its own. Its split between borrowing the cultural vocabulary of other movements (namely hip hop) and relying on cliches and gimmicks to express it self. There isn’t anything wrong with this. Rock Around The Clock or Parent’s Just Don’t Understand are not deep songs. And what were the Ramones, if not a 60s pop throw back. This is the way things start. This is the way it is supposed to be this early in the game. That’s cool.

Something like Romance Language though hinted at more. It didn’t quite realize it, but it strongly hinted at a scene that had its own vocabulary. It hinted at a potential for something deeper to come out of the scene.

The reason that I talk Karl up so much here is because, from what I’ve seen, he was one of the guys that was going to come out with something new each and every time. Each new album would be a step forward, advancing things just a little more. May be not raising the bar, but pushing into new areas. In a scene obsessed with video games, he was the guy that released “Well That’s Moe.” An anime centric track that left everyone who wasn’t an otaku scrambling to figure out what the hell he was talking about. That took serious guts. And those guts were what made Karl someone to keep an eye on.

You may not have liked Karl’s dance based beats. You may not have dug his anime and manga centric lyrics. But, you have to admit that the guy didn’t shy away from the inherent risks in experimenting. And for a scene as young as nerdcore to loose someone who was so willing to experiment and take risks, it is a shame. The scene will be poorer for the time that he’s away. Hopefully, that time will be short.

Written by Matt

August 28th, 2007 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Nerdcore,News,Thoughts

Random Links

without comments

So I’m trying to clean out my bloglines account of all the various posts that I’ve saved for later. I did an initial hack and slash earlier today and got rid of most of it, but I saved a couple of posts that I really wanted to mention, so here they are,

First up, we have two articles from Jambase.com, one I’ve read, the other I look forward to reading.

Grace Potter’s Nocturnal Existence – This is the article I’ve read. A nice long form (3 pages) interview with Grace Potter and Scott Tournet of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Their new album, their first for Hollywood Records, comes out next week and the two discuss the pressures of signing with a major label while still trying to keep a sense of authenticity in their music. They also talk about handling the buzz that’s been building around the band and the tendency of the media to single Grace out, instead of approaching the group as a band.

Boredoms | 07.07.07 | Brooklyn – This is the article I haven’t read. A review of the show that the Boredoms did in a park in Brooklyn back on 7/7/07. The performance featured 77 drummers. If you’re not familiar with the Boredoms, there is little I can say to properly convey just how off the chart these folks have been. Some have referred to them as Japan’s answer to Sonic Youth, but honestly? They make Sonic Youth, even at their wildest, look down right pedestrian.

Next up, we dip back into the world of Wizard Rock with two videos from the Moaning Myrtles. In my last post I gushed about the obvious talent of Ginny and the Heartbreakers. Lauren and Nina are another WRock group that brings with them buckets of obvious talent. Their backgrounds in musical theater come through in both the arrangements they use for their songs and the power of their voices. When I first heard the band, I’ll admit, I was a little less then impressed. Their early tracks weren’t properly recorded and mixed, leading to the vocals and piano stepping all over each other. Subsequent listens though began to give up the pure talent of this duo. The performances in these videos are much better representations of what these girls are capable of. Another group to keep an eye on both in the WRock community and what they do outside of it.

Finally, a couple of links revolving around a woman who has popped up in my readings quite a bit lately. Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of Dancing In The Streets, among a number of other books. You can find a fairly nice review of the book at Salon.com. The reason that I am mentioning her again though is because of an editorial she wrote for the International Herald Tribune back in June, which you can find here. The editorial concerns a law on the books in New York City which forbids dancing in bars/clubs that do not have a cabaret license. The law is an old one that was largely ignored until former Mayor (and current Republican presidential candidate) Rudy Giuliani began using the law to limit what New Yorkers could do when they go out. To quote the editorial, did you know there are currently only 170 places in NYC where it is legal to get up and dance? Dance anywhere else in the city, and you’re breaking the law. I always thought Footloose was set in the mid-west.

The editorial itself is largely a retread of what is talked about in the book, but it is still an interesting piece to read, especially if you are unfamiliar with the book, which I can not recommend highly enough.

Finally, a video which seems to validate Barbara’s points, George Clinton taking over the crowd of Late Night with David Letterman. Yeah they look goofy, but when was the last time you had that much uninhibited fun in the span of less then four minutes?

I do wonder though if their studio (were they in the Ed Sullivan Theater by then?) had the proper licenses for that kind of dancing though?

Written by Matt

August 2nd, 2007 at 8:53 pm

Bacchus

with 4 comments

Last week I was in Borders and picked up a copy of Bertrand Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy. For those unfamiliar with the book, it is possibly the most widely read introduction to western philosophy in print. I started reading the book yesterday and came across the below quote in an early section talking about the Dionysus/Bacchus cult in ancient Greece.

“It is evident that this process can be carried too far, as it is, for instance, by the miser. But without going to such extremes, prudence may easily involve the loss of some of the best things in life. The worshipper of Bacchus reacts against prudence. In intoxication, physical or spiritual, he recovers an intensity of feeling which prudence had destroyed; he finds the world full of delight and beauty, and his imagination is suddenly liberated from the prison of every-day preoccupations. The Bacchis ritual produced what was called “enthusiasm,” which means, etymologically, having the god enter into the worshipper, who believed that he became one with the god. Much of what is greatest in human achievement involves some element of intoxication,* some sweeping away of prudence by passion. Without the Bacchis element, life would be uninteresting; with it, it is dangerous. Prudence versus passion is a conflict that runs through history. It is not a conflict in which we ought to side wholly with either party.”

* “I mean mental intoxication, not intoxication by alcohol”

I’ve been coming across quotes like this for a couple of months now and I always end up contemplating how they fit into the passion that is the heart of being a geek (no matter what kind of geek you are).

I probably need to just bite the bullet and start researching the Dionysus cult.

Hey Paul, you still reading this blog? Put that philosophy degree to use and give some leads on books, will ya?

So, that’s it. No major revelations or reviews or rants. Just sharing a quote that I’ve been chewing on.

Written by Matt

July 15th, 2007 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Thoughts

To Download or not to Download

with 6 comments

Wrock artist, Roonil Wazlib posted an interesting entry on her blog questioning the proliferation of Wrock songs on myspace that are not set up to be downloaded. The resulting discussion has proven to be pretty interesting.

I’ve already talked about my feelings on the issue near the end of this post. There was a comment in the discussion from DJ Luna Lovegood that caused me a certain degree of thought.

last summer i was hashing thru the idea that it’s funny how people expect musicians, particularly, to almost volunteer their work as if it’s their duty. ie.’you have talent-perform now!’ i came up with the comparison of being a secretary, ‘you type, type now-no pay’ that wouldn’t fly. or you work on cars, fix my car, for nothing!

This is of course, a completely valid and important comment. I’d never heard it put that way, and it is going to be a long time before I fully digest her comment.

This actually plays off something that I was contemplating sometime back about emusic. For those not familiar with emusic, it is a service similar to iTunes, but with out the DRM and much more indie centric. The main difference between emusic and iTunes is that instead of paying for each track individually, you pay a monthly fee and are able to download a certain number of songs with in that month. When the service first started they had a deal where you could pay a fee and get unlimited downloads. A year or two ago, they stopped this practice and now the biggest package is 75 downloads a month (which takes me about 15 minutes to go through). When emusic first got rid of the unlimited downloads, I remember that Cory over at boingboing decried the move and I agreed with him at the time. Several months ago a discussion about emusic over at the indiepop list garnered the comment from someone that there were a fair number of labels who are still waiting for emusic to pay them for some of the purchases made under this unlimited plan.

Now, I love the idea of being able to download an unlimited amount of music for a regular monthly fee. Hell, I’d pay a pretty hefty amount of money for that ability. That said, you couldn’t give me an unlimited amount of music if it meant that the bands and labels putting out that music were going to get screwed.

That said, and understanding that I’m not done chewing on Tina’s (aka DJ Luna Lovegood) comment, here’s my initial response to her comment.

It isn’t that I’m asking for artists to give me something for free, it is that I’m asking the artist to trust me.

Looking over my life and how I interact with various bands, I find that the bands who put the most faith and trust in their fans, were the bands that I supported with the most enthusiasm. They were the bands who’s merch I bought as much on principle, as want or need. They were the bands that I forced on friends and strangers. They were the bands that I talked about the most on mailing lists and newsgroups. The band put their faith and trust in their fans and I felt obligated to earn that faith and trust.

This year, since I’ve relaunched this blog, I’ve picked up a number of CDs that I really want to review for the site. Of all of those CDs though, the only one that I’m honestly annoyed with myself that I haven’t reviewed yet is Ultraklystron’s Romance Language. This is because it is an amazing album on a number of levels (forget chris or Front or Lars, as far as I’m concerned, Karl is so far ahead of all of them it only looks like he’s second string. He’s just getting ready to lap them and RL is all the proof you need). Though, I can’t help but notice that the entire album is freely available (as well as everything else Karl has ever done) for download. Is this a coincidence? Probably not.

In my previous post where I talked about downloading I mentioned tape trading and taper’s tax. Since it’s buried in that other post, I’ll quote it here.

A little story to illustrate. Back in the early days of what would become the jamband scene most of the big name acts were signed to major labels (Phish, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, even Aquarium Rescue Unit). One of the marvels that the labels could never wrap their heads around was that all of these bands allowed their fans to record their shows (which were universally seen as superior to their studio albums) and yet they still posted strong album sales. The labels could never figure out how they did this. Well, the secret was known as taper’s tax. We, the fans, knew that the bands had gone to bat for us over the whole recording shows thing. Labels did not like this practice and constantly tried to stop it. The bands had our back though, and we knew it. And so, the community created the process of taper’s tax. Taper’s tax was a unwritten agreement between the bands and the fans. If you collected shows from a band, then you bought their studio albums. You may never listen to those albums, but you bought them just the same. It was our way of helping to support the bands and to say thank you for them going to bat for us. On the other hand, bands that gave into label demands and limited or cut off recording of their shows, suffered swift retribution, as all but the hardcore moved on to other groups.

At the core of taper’s tax is the trust that the bands had in their fans. That unspoken agreement of ‘we’ll keep playing and letting you tape, you help us pay our rent and keep gas in the van’ was sacred to the fans.

One part of the whole taping thing I didn’t talk about was what happened when the scene started to grow.

It stands to reason that more people in a scene where something cool like taping is going on, means a greater chance that someone is going to try and make a buck off the practice. We knew this and understood it. As the scene got bigger the enforcement of that unspoken agreement got stricter. Where in the early days there was a gray area where people would sometimes stretch the agreement a little. Or do things like let newbies, who didn’t have anything to trade and were just sending blank tapes, send cash to cover return postage. As the scene started to grow these greys disappeared. Eventually, any sign of money or profit was not only frowned upon by the community, but attacked. There were huge flame wars on various lists as the grey areas were destroyed and the rules clearly set. All in an attempt to ensure that the unspoken agreement wasn’t violated. (interestingly, bands rarely got involved in these disputes. It was an internal matter).

It wasn’t just with in the scene though. In the mid 90s there was the rise of ‘beat the boots’ trees (a tape tree is a method of distribution for tapes). Someone would find out that a particular show was being being sold as a boot. They’d put a call out to the community to track down the best possible quality tape of the show (which was usually just as good, if not better, sounding then an official release of the show). The show would then be distributed as widely as possible in an attempt to limit the desire for the boot. Some would take it even a step further, printing up stickers that they would stick to the offending bootleg. These stickers would alert potential buyers that they could get quality recordings of the band, for free, by visiting a certain mailing list or usenet group or website. Some would even put an email address or some other contact information on the sticker.

The community did not mince words when it came to why they were doing this. The bands put their faith in their fans and the bootleggers were ripping the bands off, which meant the bootleggers had to be run out of business and the fans took the lead in doing so. It is important to note that this was purely an internal thing. Beyond that unspoken agreement, the bands were not involved. The fans did this purely of their own volition

At the end of the day, this is, in many ways, probably the hardest time to be a musician who has any hopes of making any kind of money from your art (even if it is just to recoup the money that you spent). The entire business model for musicians has been turned upside down and no one knows for sure how to make it work. It is hard to blame a musician for playing it conservatively when the money were talking about is going to be used for things like rent and groceries. Sure I’d love it if artists took Karl’s lead and put their albums up on their websites for free download. I can’t blame them for not doing so and I can’t honestly say that Karl is right in what he’s doing. I’m sure he’s missed out on album sales because he does this. I hope that he’s made a few in return, but I don’t know.

Perhaps the above is just me trying to justify my selfishness in wanting free music to feed my habit. May be I’m just a freak and most people wouldn’t care as much as I do about an artist putting their trust in their fans. I can’t help feeling though that as the once mighty corporate labels stumble down from their pillars and the music industry goes through its upheavals, that it is going to be the artists who have developed a relationship with their fans and who have learned to trust their fans, how ever that trust manifests, that will come out ahead in the end.

Then again, may be I’m just an idealist.

Written by Matt

March 22nd, 2007 at 9:16 pm

Posted in Thoughts

A wishlist from a fan

with 2 comments

Artist: Jawbreaker
Song: Tour Song
Album: Bivouac
(lyrics)

Last week Shael Riley started a thread over on Rhymetorrents asking for financial advice from mc chris. The thread eventually dissolved into the typical stupid infighting bullshit that plagues Rhymetorrents, so I didn’t bother reading all of it, but the idea did stick in my head. While I’m not a rapper or producer or DJ, I am a fan. So, as a fan, this is a list of the things that I would like to see to make it easier for me to give people money.

Before I get into things a few notes,

1) The below list is intended as constructive criticism. Please do not take any of the below as any kind of diss. Yes, I’m going to mention people by name based on the dealings I’ve had. This should not be taken as a slap against them. These are just observations. It is a fact that sometimes you don’t know you may not be doing something the best way until someone comes along and points it out. That’s all this is. Me expressing my opinions on what I’ve seen. Take them as you will.

2) This list is intended as a wish list. Some of these things will not be doable for some artists due to limited resources. That’s cool.

3) From the above thread, it is obvious that a lot of artists are solely into nerdcore for the fun of it and don’t care about money at all. In my opinion, that’s probably the best way to approach it. Hopefully though, there will be something that you can take from this list as well.

Bottom line, this is just me expressing my opinions. The intention is not to say this is how it needs to be done. Instead, I hope that this will get artists to may be think about how they do things and how they may be able to do it better. You can have the greatest music in the world. If the network supporting it is shit, then you won’t go to far.

OK, enough hedging my bets, lets get down to business.

1) One of the comments that mc chris made was “you can’t download a t-shirt” I found this kind of interesting. Years ago, while I was still in the jamband scene, I worked merch at a bunch of shows. Including managing the merch table at a half dozen festivals (meaning I ended up selling merch for 10-15 bands per festival). In my experience, I sold may be one t-shirt for every 20-30 CDs that I sold, and that’s being conservative. Now, that was a long time ago and a whole other scene with different opinions on merch, so who knows how worth while that bit of knowledge is now. The point is though, don’t underestimate the importance of printing CDs. Especially if you are doing shows.

If you are doing shows, hopefully there are people in the audience who’ve never heard you before. Yeah you can tell them from the stage that they can go download the CD from some web site. Just because the CD is free to download though, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have some available for purchase.

To download the show the person has to go all the way home with out forgetting your name, which can be harder then you think depending on how messed up they are at the show (you have no idea how many people I’ve sold CDs to after they stumbled up to the merch table and told me what they wanted through heavily slurred speech) or how memorable your show really was. Then they have to get on line. Then they have to find the web site (even if they do remember your name, the chances of them remembering a url are pretty bad). Then they have to download the tracks. And if you’re using RAR? They probably don’t have that software on their machine, so they have go find that as well. Now, they’re contending with their download speeds and how much space they have left on their hard drive.

Let’s be blunt here. Unless someone was really impressed by your performance, they probably aren’t going to bother 9 times out of 10.

On the other hand, if you’ve got CDs to sell, and announce from the stage that hey, the album is available for free to download or over at the merch table for $10 (or whatever), a lot more of those casual fans will wonder over to the merch table and throw down the $10 that they didn’t spend on beer before last call. It is an impulse buy for them. The thing is that they now have something to remember you. The Minutemen used to view records as fliers. They were just a way to remind the crowd who you were after you had left their town and to keep their interest until you came back. The album had to be good, since it was all they had until you came back, but it wasn’t an end in and of itself. Its a good philosophy to have if you’re planning on doing shows.

Bottom line here is that just because you’re giving a CD away for free, doesn’t mean people still won’t buy it. Despite what the RIAA has told you, the actual research on the subject (i.e. the studies that the RIAA didn’t pay for) shows that small indie artists actually sell more CDs when they give their music away. For small artists, people don’t just buy CDs for the music, they also buy CDs to show their support of the artist.

2) Make it easy for people to sample your shit. I’m going to pick on Ultraklystron here first, because I’m going to compliment him later. This is Karl’s site, it is the first hit when you search for Ultraklystron in Google. Now look at the site and tell me where to find two pieces of information. First, where does it tell you how to buy his first album? Second, where can you sample the tracks from his first album to see if you want to buy the album? The first is easy to find. There’s a nice paypal link right there at the top. The second, not so easy. It’s about three quarters of the way down on the sidebar.

If you’re going to go through the trouble of putting mp3s of your music on your site (and I’ll love you for it), then go that extra mile and make them brain dead easy to find. This is why most artist web sites have a specific section set aside for mp3s and videos. It makes it really easy for fans to find what they are looking for when they hit your site.

Sub point, let’s call it 2.1, put together a decent web site. I’m sorry but I fracking hate having to deal with the sites for mc chris or MC Lars. Both look pretty but are functionally horrible. Instead of getting into the why’s, Merlin Mann did a nice write up awhile ago on his 43 Folders Blog. The comments there are worth a read as well.

3) Don’t sell what you don’t have to sell. OK, time to pick on Beefy. Why? Because everyone picks on Beefy and I want to get in on it. Seriously, from what I’ve seen, he’s the first one to step in this one, but I’m sure he won’t be the last. Back at the end of December it occurred to me that I was digging his new album, which I’d downloaded off his site, and, being a record geek, I wanted to have a copy of it. So, I purchased a copy through his site. A couple weeks later I watched a vidlog of an interview that Beefy gave to someone. In the interview he talks about how he’d burned a couple copies of his CD and was surprised when they all sold, since he was giving the album away for free. And even more surprised when they kept selling. He also mentioned how he was trying to burn more to fill the orders but was running into time constraints. I saw this interview and wrote off ever getting the CD. I already had the music on the CD and really I just wanted to buy it to show my support so I just forgot about it. A lot of people wouldn’t though.

It is tempting with CDR technology to just burn what you need, when you need it. Sell one CD, burn one CD. Then life gets in the way. Things start happening and the next thing you know you don’t have time, or energy, to burn the CDs that you need to burn to fill your orders and the orders start piling up. The problem is that this annoys fans. Those fans then think twice before ordering from you again. Even worse, they tell other people about their negative experience and suddenly your problem is solved because a lot less people are buying your CDs. Instead, burn a bunch of CDs and then sell them. When that batch sells out, take down the paypal link and put up a note saying that you’ll burn more soon. Then, after you get another batch burned, make a big announcement about how they’re back in print again. It isn’t uncommon for albums by indie artists to go in and out of print. You could even use it to your advantage, telling media folks how your first album sold out in a week. Who needs to tell them that you only burned 20 copies. Do what you can to keep the albums in print as much as possible though. People want to give you money, let them!

4) Send out orders asap. If you’re selling merch through your web site, then you need to ship out your orders as soon as possible. I mentioned before that I would be complimenting Karl, and this is where. When I placed an order for his first CD, I promptly received it in the mail a week or two later. Because of that, I’m practically chomping at the bit to give him my money for Romance Language. There is a certain level of risk for people when they place orders online. Especially when they’re dealing on the indie level. I have no idea if you haven’t sent me the CD because of understandable problems on your end or because you’re just ripping me off. By sending out orders right away, you create a level of trust with the person placing the order. That trust means they’ll be more likely to order from you again in the future.

When people respond to the question of why they bother to still buy music from stores, even though they may be able to get it cheaper online, the most common answer given is that they want to listen to the music now. Not, the three to four weeks it takes for an online order to show up. So, the quicker you can get them the order the better. An example of what I mean here. There’s a record label/distributor out in AZ called Eclipse Records. I once placed an order with Eclipse at around 1AM on Friday night/Saturday morning. I received the order on Monday. That means the order was probably filled before dawn on Saturday morning and dropped off at the post office first thing in the morning (remember, no post office service on Sunday) This is actually pretty common with Eclipse, their orders always arrive with in two to three days of my payment. Because of this, I LOVE ordering from Eclipse. And when I’m in the mood to buy the type of music that they sell, I don’t hesitate to place an order with them. Since I know that I’ll have the music in my hand so quickly. Plus, I love supporting a business that is so involved in making sure that I’m happy with the service. I’m not saying you should fill orders with in hours of receiving them, but try to be prompt. I order a lot of albums from indie labels and Karl’s week or two delivery time was extremely professional.

5) Don’t make me jump through hoops to check you out. I realize that a lot of artists can’t afford to put their songs up on a web site for people to download. If your trying to make money off of this though, it really needs to be something to work towards. Unless your song is just super catchy, it is probably going to take me a little time to get into it and understand the full scope of your brilliance. Let me download the song and listen to it while I’m driving, or at work, or doing what ever. Let me fall in love with your music where I am most likely to fall in love with your music. Also, once I have fallen in love with your music, let me promote the living shit out of your music. Let me link to it on my blog or send emails to my friends telling them they that have to check this track out. If you’re creating music that I love, then I’d love nothing more then to pimp the living shit out of it. Please, let me.

Which brings me to something that I just have to say. Myspace? Fracking sucks! Worst abomination on the web since the invention of the blink tag.

I realize that for many people myspace is the only option to getting their music on the web. And hey, something is better then nothing. That said, using myspace as the primary way to let people hear your music when you have a choice, is not a smart move. The difference here is me being able to tell someone to click a link and sit back and enjoy the music. Versus having to tell someone to click a link, then click this other link, then wait for the track to buffer, then listen to the track until the buffer runs out, then, once the buffer has filled up again, listen to the rest of the track. This doesn’t help me promote you. In most cases, people won’t bother with the second option.

Bottom line here is, please, let me make you bigger then Jesus. I really really want to.

As an aside here, I’ve noticed that a lot of the nerdcore tracks on myspace do not have downloading enabled. Now, since I don’t have a myspace account, I have no idea if there is a reason behind this or not, but considering the prevailing opinion in the nerdcore scene on downloading music (i.e. it is a good thing) I thought this was kind of odd. If you’re tracks aren’t available anywhere else and it doesn’t cost you anything to enable downloading, could you do me a favor and let me download them please? I’d appreciate it.

Jesus this has gotten long! I guess I had more to say then I realized. OK, one last point then I’ll wrap this up.

6) You’re my bitch! Sorry, but that just struck me as funny, not sure why. It is true though. If you are trying to make money off your music, then you are constantly in debt to your fans. They are the ones paying your rent and putting food in your stomach. Its important to treat them right and make sure they realize that you appreciate it.

A little story to illustrate. Back in the early days of what would become the jamband scene most of the big name acts were signed to major labels (Phish, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, even Aquarium Rescue Unit). One of the marvels that the labels could never wrap their heads around was that all of these bands allowed their fans to record their shows (which were universally seen as superior to their studio albums) and yet they still posted strong album sales. The labels could never figure out how they did this. Well, the secret was known as taper’s tax. We, the fans, knew that the bands had gone to bat for us over the whole recording shows thing. Labels did not like this practice and constantly tried to stop it. The bands had our back though, and we knew it. And so, the community created the process of taper’s tax. Taper’s tax was a unwritten agreement between the bands and the fans. If you collected shows from a band, then you bought their studio albums. You may never listen to those albums, but you bought them just the same. It was our way of helping to support the bands and to say thank you for them going to bat for us. On the other hand, bands that gave into label demands and limited or cut off recording of their shows, suffered swift retribution, as all but the hardcore moved on to other groups.

The moral is, take care of your fans and they will be more then happy to take care of you. Abandon your fans, and they’ll follow suit.

Alright, that’s it. Thanks for putting up with all of this for those of you who actually did. This turned out to be a lot longer then I expected. Hopefully it was worth your time.

Two quick notes before finally signing off:

One, I mentioned the Minutemen up above. For anyone looking to turn “pro” I’d recommend heading down to your local library and checking out a copy of Our Band Could Be Your Life, then read the section on the Minutemen. There’s some good info in there.

Two, the relevance of the above song. Considering the subject if felt appropriate. If you’re going to go pro, then you’ll probably do some touring. It is important to keep in mind, touring can suck. Plus, its a great song.

Written by Matt

February 13th, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Nerdcore,Thoughts

Juxtapositions

without comments

Jesse Jarnow posted an old review today that was never published by the magazine he’d sent it to. The review is of the Dave Matthews Band performance in Central Park a couple of years ago. As I was reading it I was struck by the following quote about the fans who were waiting to get into the show,

Besides how they got their tickets, they rarely spoke about the band they were there to see (unheard of at show by Phish or the Grateful Dead, two bands the DMB is frequently lumped with). They didn’t even speak with particular frequency about other bands, but mostly about movies or television shows.

While this might not seem worth remarking on at first, it seems some indication of the way the Dave Matthews Band (and, thus, the rock concert as an entity) might now be viewed by young fans: music as something undifferentiated from other pop culture mediums, as opposed to an autonomous experience that exists outside of the mainstream of American life. In other words: rock not as rebellion at all, but as a completely sanctioned experience. Though this has probably been the norm for some time, the concert form has seemingly transformed around this ideal.

The above idea strikes me as alien and, in fact, Jesse later hints that this may be more a by product of DMB’s relaxed approach to music as much as a general shift in public opinion. While I would like to completely disregard the concept out right, I’ve already seen that my views on music are far from common.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a friend of mine. For some reason I made some comment about that moment when your frame of mind and the music your listening to just sync perfectly. The idea that is summed up in the old cliche “ saved my life.” The friend admitted to me that she had never experienced that moment before. That music just didn’t reach her in that way. I was dumb founded. I still can’t quite wrap my brain around the idea that there are people who don’t know what that experience is like.

Before I rebooted this site, there used to be a post here explaining the name of this site. I ended up deleting it because it just didn’t capture what I wanted to say in the post.

The name for the site comes from those moments when the world becomes to much for you to handle and you retreat into music. More specifically, it refers to that moment where you find meaning in the songs (either lyrically or just emotionally). Suddenly you are aware that you’re not alone. That someone who you have never met understands what you are going through. The experience becomes a source of energy to over come the issues that have bogged you down. And when the music stops, you feel rejuvenated. The simple act of listening to music, takes on elements of a baptism of sorts. And when the ritual has ended, you feel reborn.

Because this has been my relationship to music for as long as I can remember. Because it has been the source of my salvation on so many occasions. The concept of music as disposable media, as little more then a sound track for something else, just seems alien to me.

The juxtaposition to this review from Jesse is my choice in music over the last two days. On Tuesday, while hunting through my iPod looking for something I hadn’t listened to in awhile, I came across The Make Up.

The Make Up, for those who are unfamiliar with the group, were a collection of musicians from Washington, DC and Olympia, WA. Formed out of the ashes of the DC band Nation of Ulysses, the band combined 60s style r&b and rock & roll with performance techniques borrowed from gospel music (specifically the use of the audience as a part of the ensemble) to create a style of music that they called Gospel Yeh-Yeh. Ideologically, the band owed a great deal to Situationalism and other mid-century leftist movements.

The whole point of a group like the Make Up was involving the audience in what was happening. The group even went so far as to improvise large portions of their shows (especially the lyrics) so that they could incorporate things that were happening at that moment into the performance.

Given their influences, the comparison between the Make Up and the music of the 60s is obvious. The comparison is not that clean though. While the band did borrow from these genres heavily. And the influence of these genres is obvious. The sound is also one that is obviously punk, in aesthetic, if not strict form. The real comparison between what the Make Up were doing in the 90s and the music of the 60s is the idea of music as political statement.

Now when I say this, I’m not talking about political songs in the vein of Bob Dylan or Rage Against The Machine. I’m talking about the music itself, the entire experience, as a political statement. One forgets that one of the greatest victories in the struggle for civil rights was won when white kids started listening to black music. The lyrics themselves were largely apolitical, but when those records left the strict confines of who was supposed to be listening to them, they became components in a larger political struggle.

Juxtaposing what the Make Up were doing against Jesse’s review brings this element of the band into even greater contrast. In a world where music, a form of expression that was once associated with communing with the divine and community, has become yet another form of disposable media, what is more revolutionary then a group that openly challenges it’s listeners to become part of what is happening. To pick up instruments and create their own sound. To express themselves and leave their heart and soul on the stage.

I think this is probably one of the things that I am most fascinated with about the Nerdcore scene. (you knew it had to come back to Nerdcore at some point, didn’t you?) The aspect where it is giving voice to a group that has been largely left out of the equation until now. There have, of course, been geeks who have moved with in the realm of music. Who have even succeeded at it. For the most part though, they have either hidden or dressed up the uniquely geek aspects of their lives though. Nerdcore is perhaps the first opportunity for us to not only express ourselves, but to revel in who we are.

This is why I’m a bit perplexed by some of the things that I’ve heard and read from with in the scene. Again and again I see people, who are active participants in what is happening, faced with the question of ‘what is Nerdcore’ fall back on talking about surface issues. Its nerds rapping about nerdy things, like video games and role playing and computers; seems to be the standard formula for the response. And yes, it is those things. Their responses are neither out right lies or even misdirections. They leave unsaid an important question though. Why? Why do they do these things? Why are these things important? The answer is, because they are us. These things are important to us because they are the things that we do. They are the things we use to bind ourselves together. Because they are important to us. And because Nerdcore is about us. It is us celebrating and reveling in who and what we are.

I bring this up in relation to everything else I’ve written here, because I wonder about the repercussions of such a conscious open acknowledgment of what Nerdcore is. I wonder if or how such an acknowledgment would change Nerdcore. I wonder if those changes would increase a sense of unity and pride in the geek mindset. If so, I wonder what kind of effect that would have on the larger world. In the trailer for Nerdcore For Life, Monzy talks about the ‘geek revolution’ as our version of the civil rights movement or women’s lib. I wonder what role this might play in such a revolt.

Though, perhaps I’m only projecting my own views on others. Which, of course, is unfair. If I care so much, I should pick up a mic and do it myself.

Written by Matt

January 16th, 2007 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Nerdcore,Thoughts