I wrote about Danny Brown’s stop in Northampton for this week’s Metroland. The show was good. “Kush Coma” is great. I explained why in the paper but I’ll expound here: I can still buy into Danny Brown the Product if he can write this well about doing drugs— and from his recent stuff it seems like he really, really wants to write aboutdoingdrugs.
While other rappers are out dropping lines like “I’m in a rave party off ecstasy/ Loud music and neon lights/ Me and molly first class flight/ I know it’s wrong but it feel right” I’ll gladly take Brown going “Close my eyes feel like I’m going down In an elevator at 90 miles an hour/ And all I see is stars and they coming at me sort of like a meteor shower/ My forehead’s sweaty, my eyelids heavy, feeling like I ain’t goin’ make it/ Cause inside my head’s like a firework show in the 4th July in Las Vegas.”
Maybe I just believe Brown likes doing drugs a whole bunch more than his contemporaries? Like he’s the guy at the party excited to cut up a bunch of lines and everybody else is just snorting them because they feel obligated to and think it’s some in-crowd signifier thing? Maybe there’s a lean or molly analogy here but I haven’t been to the same “rave parties” as Waka so I can’t say. So maybe Brown’s drug-based excitement and anxiety comes through more than others when he’s contemplating the potentially fatal amount of drugs he’s ingesting?
Great flip by Waka and co. on DJ Carnage’s “Told Ya” beat though.
Then he wrote up his footnotes on Media Decoderabout some of the points I took issue with: the role of record labels, the problems with comparing disparate services, and the whatever of the “New Business Model”:
“5. New business models. One positive byproduct of the music industry’s digital crisis is that it has spawned lots of brainstorming and experimentation about new ways to do business. These include things like direct-to-fan businesses that let artists of every level sell premium products to their most ardent followers; crowdfunding sites that let artists raise money for projects on their own; and Web strategies of all kinds that let some musicians prosper independently.
All of these are great developments. But I don’t believe that any of them can completely insulate artists from the prevailing business practices of the industry, and royalty rates are one of the fundamentals that, one way or another, wind up affecting everybody.”
But even with these footnotes, it brings me to several questions: Does an “avant cello” artist making music streamed by ~1.6 million people deserve to live a middle class lifestyle? Upper-middle class? Wealthy? Why?
Currently, all of her work available on Spotify (and in her revenue spreadsheet) comes from one 2005 album. And if she was making enough money to eat off those ~1.6 million streams multiplied by the “River of Nickels” revenue, should she earn $80k streaming a 7 year old recording of her playing the cello really well? Is that fair remuneration?
I’ll quote Chris Ott’s “no song is better than any other, it’s just more popular or less” line here and link to the his very good video that works through a lot of these big questions through the lens of the Future of Music Coalition and whole bunch of other good stuff.
There are a lot of unknowns that would help me (and everyone) better understand digital music:
How many of those ~1.6 million streams were the result of repeat listens. And then;
How many of those ~1.6 million (repeats included) would have paid the .99 cents for a single song download or the ~$10 for the full album if there was not a viable Spotify-like outlet? And then;
How many would have turned to piracy? And then;
How many people would even be chasing down an “under the radar avant cello album” years after its releases? Revenue spreadsheet looks like a few thousand, max. Is the $32 you made in October 2011 from an under the radar avant cello album released in 2005 better than $0? Culminating in;
Is a system like Spotify set up to help artists like Zoë Keating make supplementary income that supports her touring and residencies, or is Spotify set up to make additional millions for the Biebers and Rihannas of the world while allowing legal, legitimate access to avant cello music with no intent on making that cellist money? Keating has her answer:
Nothing really eye opening here. It is pretty clear that it should not be for financial gain that an independent artist makes their music available for streaming, but instead it should be done for the purpose of exposure, etc.
These are the questions artists have to consider when signing deals with labels and outlets like CDBaby that operate inside this ecosystem. I’m glad I don’t have to make them.
Before I had access to Spotify? I would have probably listened to a few tracks on YouTube and then downloaded the full album from a private torrent site. Maybe I would have listened on Bandcamp first. With Spotify, I’ll listen there. I kickback something to the artist and skip the hassle of downloading, tagging, and archiving. I’ll go back to Spotify and listen there again. I don’t buy a lot of avant cello and I probably wouldn’t start here. I don’t buy as much music as I’d like to to begin with. This is not an indictment of Keating’s talent, just my consumption habits and how I spread my very meager dollar. The “it’s better than nothing” argument is shaky ground to stand on but it’s all the current distribution system offers. Shock.
Keating’s removed all but her most recent full-length— the 2005 album— from Spotify and moved the rest of her catalog to her Bandcamp page, where she’ll get nothing for a stream except the chance to convince a listener to download or order on her, and Bandcamp’s, terms.
Gunplay’s table scraps mixtape Cops & Robbers came out last week and the first Livemixtapes upload was way too quiet. A second version was uploaded soon after. It was blown out to all hell. As shoddy as the album art. I “remastered” it for you.
I am, admittedly, an amateur when it comes to this, so take from it what you will. I took the first set of MP3 files and tweaked the EQ, added a little Vocal Exciter and a bit of bass, then amplified across the board. Also cleaned up the ID3 tags. Bitrate remains at 160kbps. This is obviously not a real remaster. Whatever. It sounds better. Maybe much better. Regardless, this is the best sounding version that exists.
Last.fm fails at what it’s supposed to do: track your listening. Yeah sure it’s a “music recommendation service” but those recommendations are built off of what you’re listening to. If Last.fm and the Scrobbler can’t figure out what you’re listening to, Last.fm can’t work.
I signed up for Last in 2007 as a freshman in college. I used it for several months. I was spending a lot of time on music forums and a friend from a board recommended I sign up. I watched his listening habits and tracked my own. He helped shepherd me into new/independent/outsider stuff that I was pretty green to. I was listening to more music and new-to-me music. The stats and graphs and play counts— the gamification of listening— drove my discovery.
I have compulsive behaviors towards things. I care about tags and release notes and labels and I put too much value in building a nice hierarchy in my collection. It’s lame and wonky but it helps my listening and collecting. Last’s tracking and graphs seemed like it would be an nice addition to that. It wasn’t. Scrobbling and tracking soon took precedent over actual listening. That grossed me out. I deleted my account.
I signed back up for Last on a whim this week, hoping the site’s most glaring shortcomings had be fixed at some point over the last five years. They haven’t.
The service still can’t recognize “Compton (feat. Dr. Dre)” by Kendrick Lamar and “Compton (ft. Dr. Dre)” by Kendrick Lamar and “Compton” by Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre are the same song off the same album. A service that promises to help you find new music based off your listening habits and the listening habits of others can’t decipher that those three songs are the same and being played by people with at least somewhat similar tastes and interests.
You’re fucking up if this copy is sitting on your Wikipedia page: “As the information generated is largely compiled from the ID3 data from audio files “scrobbled” from user’s own computers, and which may be incorrect or misspelled, there are many errors in the listings. Tracks with ambiguous punctuation are especially prone to separate listings, which can dilute the apparent popularity of a track. Artists or bands with the same name are not always differentiated. The system attempts to translate some different artist tags to a single artist profile, and has recently attempted to harmonise track names.”
Last trumpets play counts and scrobbles and weekly and monthly charts as music discovery tools, but why the hell do those charts and scrobbles even matter when the site’s central tenet is also its most obvious failure?
(p.s. am I missing some big glaring obvious fix to this problem? Is there an easy workaround? I can’t see anything besides “recommending” a fix to a song’s attributes.)
I listened to 127 songs since re-opening my account this Monday. That’s a figure I’ll be ok with not knowing next week. Last still falls short the same way it did back in 2007. Sure some of my compulsion over PERFECT BEAUTIFUL METADATA limits my own usefulness for the site, but Last still hasn’t figured out how to make the most basic part of their service work. I’m taking my listening back off this social grid.
I took some potshots at the #freepussyriot crowd yesterday because Twitter is the right place to take potshots at a loosely affiliated group of internet activists. I thought I might actually give those digs a bit of substance here. I wrote a draft yesterday but let it sit overnight. I had to edit it because the message I was trying to write was becoming increasingly muddled. This is not about Pussy Riot. It’s about reaction, defense, and weak activism examined through the lens of the #freepussyriot movement.
Shorter Pussy Riot: This spring, a Russian punk band/art group made up of young feminists entered Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and started playing air guitar while signing (or lip-syncing?) anti-Putin lyrics in an effort to disrupt an in-progress service in the name of art and self-expression and rebellion and protest. The scene lasted about 40 seconds. They were then arrested for “hooliganism,” tried by a prosecutor who accused them of “abusing god,” and, as of today, sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” through actions that were “sacrilegious, blasphemous” and “broke the church’s rules.” The world has picked up their torch and lit every lamppost with a big blazing hashtag: #FREEPUSSYRIOT.
This type of hashtag activism has been of interest to me for a while, and a long-brewing piece in my “Ideas” folder has been exploring the two (or three?) main trunks of activism c. 2012: Actually Doing Something (and/or Raising Money) and Clicking Like. A change.org petition was started by notable names and signed by even more notable names. The petition has around 123k signatures at the time of writing. The goal is 125k. What happens at 125k I don’t really know. This isn’t a fucking Kickstarter. Putin isn’t going to unlock Pussy Riot’s cage at 125k “Backers”. Change.org is a site dedicated to getting a (mostly) American audience to electronically sign their names to a petition in hopes of people taking notice. This petition is about showing Putin’s Russia just how serious this type of public performance art is to the people that signed it. With this signature I ask my fellow countries to maybe ease up a bit. You’re harshing our punk vibes, Russia. Maybe just 30 days of community service, plus time-served? Kindly count me the hell out.
Artists came out in support of Pussy Riot. Madonna took a brave stand against censorship. Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna told Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly that “We are all Pussy Riot.” The change.org petition page highlights famous acts that signed. But the thing is, nobody— save the prosecution— is actively looking for a multi-year jail sentence for these women, particularly other musicians and artists like Madonna or Kathleen Harris, two women who built their careers on challenging the notions of art and gender roles. Their support should be implied. I’m more interested in hearing from other Russian punk bands and youth-driven anti-Putin groups than I am from Madonna or Harris. This is Russia’s system and this is the Russian people’s fight. We can support it, but we can’t control or shape it. Let’s focus on them.
I, also, have no interest in jailing people who express themselves through any artistic lens, public performance included. Putting young women in prison for causing a scene is absolute and total horseshit. It’s also dangerous and scary. But if Pussy Riot is perform in a church with links to Putin’s administration, during a service, in Putin’s Russia, they have to accept (or at least be aware) of the potential praise, criticism, and real, genuine political and criminal consequences that will very likely follow. A electronic petition and a flurry of hashtagged tweets can only do so much. But I can’t imagine they don’t know this.
Isn’t this the type of reaction protest groups like Pussy Riot chase after? They need these types of public conversations and public battles to illustrate just how wrong the thing they’re protesting is. And maybe, in the end, they also “need” a gross, unjust sentence. Two years in a Russian jail for air guitar is pretty fucking punk. Pussy Riot is having their Punishment Park moment. They’re all Nancy Smith. Spouting off “seditious literature” about a government and administration they believe to be unfair and unjust has left them with an unfair and unjust punishment. They’ve illustrated and embodied the thing they were protesting. Fortunately for the sentenced members, they don’t need to spend three days in the desert chasing a waving flag on a hill while being stalked and eventually murdered by a bunch of badge-waving conservatives. Two years in prison is awful enough.
[Note: While being lead out of the courtroom, Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said, “we are happy because we brought the revolution closer!”]
“My generation” needs to understand that tweeting and reblogging isn’t activism. Simply writing about a thing isn’t always activism— even in the mainstream press to a mainstream audience. This type of work is a PR campaign for what you believe in. It’s a PR campaign for Pussy Riot. It’s a PR campaign for the very real plight and real protests of young people in Russia fighting against an increasingly harsh and controlling government. It’s a PR campaign preoccupied with a notion of THIS THING IS HAPPENING!!, not This Is How We Should Fix This Bad Thing. Blanket, bottom-up support done en masse is quite often worse than thoughtful, nuanced support done by fewer people. And please note: I am not claiming to be thoughtful and nuanced on the workings of democracy and freedom in Russia, which is why I’m not going much further than saying “a two-year sentence is fucked up.”
And so now, with this verdict and sentence, we know what this brand of weakened “activism” brings and what it has done for Pussy Riot. Waves of international attention and interest has left the tried members with two-year jail terms and Putin’s Russia with not much more than a heap of bad PR. Madonna knows your name. Your trended on Twitter. People understand your plight and are disgusted by the institution you railed against. These things are “wins.” But the people you convinced and “woke up” are still at home, writing on Twitter, talking about some new bullshit while you’re being hauled off to Real Actual Jail (while other Russian protestors working in the same vein— activists who know their political and judicial system better than most Americans— are also being arrested for similar “crimes”).
This is all from an American prospective because I am an American who has never been to Russia. Sometimes I read about Russian politics and think “wow, that’s fucked.” But no matter how much shit we, Americans, can churn up here, no matter how much “activism” we create and awareness we raise, we’re still, mostly, Americans yelling about the Russian system. Our fury and flurry can’t go beyond moral and, at times, financial support. We shouldn’t lead this charge because it’s not our system. It’s a system few of us genuinely understand or interact with.
Writing this has brought up a lot of the same feelings I’ve had about the Occupy Wall Street movement— a movement I am, at a base level, completely understanding and sympathetic to. And at a more realistic level? I see a weak, unstructured movement railing against the gold standard and American Apparel and THE POLICE STATE and evil banksters all before breakfast. At least one protestor got it (and the Pussy Riot situation) right: SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT.
One of the biggest themes I’m seeing on Twitter is “A punk band is in jail. Think about how fucked up that is.” I’ve thought about it. It is fucked up. Yes a two-year sentence is a shame and yes it is unjust and yes the Russian system needs reform, but my #freepussyriot tweet is no more a signifier of positive, genuine activism than changing my Twitter avatar green in support of Iran’s youth or throwing another log on the #KONY2012 fire. I don’t know how to effect change in the Putin/Russian political system because it’s not my system and I have no direct interaction with it. I’d like to know how, and I try to learn as much about it as I can, but I know my weak tweet or reblog isn’t the key. These items can only, at best, raise awareness— to think otherwise is foolish. This post isn’t going to change the prosecution’s mind and it isn’t going to reform Russia.
There are jailed dissenters around the world, with harsher sentences for lesser crimes, wasting in silence. We shouldn’t forget them and we shouldn’t forget the message Pussy Riot was trying to spread. However, we should let rebellion and reform grow organically from within a country and then foster and support it with an outsider’s perspective; we shouldn’t place ourselves and our lives and our Twitter feeds directly into someone else’s story and someone else’s struggle. There are native, grassroots movements and well-funded international organizations that can and successfully do this. If it’s not about you, don’t force it to be about you.
I went through and deleted a lot of old posts— mostly pictures I didn’t take or YouTubes I presented without comment. I installed a new theme that looks better on all browsers. I’ve also moved the domain back to the original aylororris.tumblr.com.
I’m still not entirely sure what I want to use this space for, but I’ll be experimenting with it over the next few weeks. For starters, I’ll be building a portfolio/work page and posting a short essay on Pussy Riot. Generic photo-dumps and the like are out, actual writing and commentary in.
“A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors—in all likelihood, a couple of dozen—and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh. The cheeseburger couldn’t have existed until nearly a century ago as, indeed, it did not.”
I talked with Scott Andrus of ON3P Skis for ESPN Freeskiing. That Q&A is now live. A few chunks were cut for space, but I think Scott’s answers and insights regarding newschoolers.com were interesting enough to warrant a share here.
You mentioned Newschoolers. It seemed like a pretty useful think tank for some of the earlier ideas for the company. How important was it in terms of initial success for you?
I think, as for as getting the word out, and getting people involved, it was, it is invaluable. We were able to set up the ON3P cult— I think right now it has like 200 members— but at the time there were probably 30 plus very active people from all over, giving input and giving ideas, and pushing the whole thing along. I think without that, it wouldn’t have been as smooth, for sure.
I remember some of the earliest threads, with people throwing around graphics and ideas and shapes and sizes. It felt like a really organic thing.
I think it was. At the time, it wasn’t about building a company, it was about building whatever we wanted to ski. It was definitely natural. The cool thing is now we’re still building what we want to ski, so, in that regard, nothings changed. It’s pretty crazy.
Dropping a couple of new things I’ve written semi-recently.
First up is a live review of TV on the Radio at Skidmore, written for Metroland. I talked a lot about the crowd. They were asking for it. TV on the Radio was good and played exactly the type of set you’d expect to hear from TV on the Radio c. 2011. It’s up here.
Second thing is a relatively short review of Fleet Foxes at Mountain Park, again for Metroland. I half expected a snoozer, but The Walkmen did the “opener/warm-up” gig well, and Fleet Foxes are substantially less snoozy live than I thought they’d be. The show was a nice way to wrap up the outdoor concert season. October is already half gone, so I’m now moving on to indoor rap shows. Fleet Foxes/The Walkmen review here.
And while we’e on the topic indoor rap shows, I saw The Smoker’s Club Part Deux last night at Northern Lights. Curren$y, a hobbled, couch-ridden Curren$y, is great and worth every second of your time. The review should be out this time next week.