BLINDSPOTIFYING THE RUBES
Rhetoric, Perception Management, and the Future/Non-Future of Music Exposure
by Mark S. Tucker
A most perplexing dilemma has stricken the arts, the musical more than the rest. In a confluence of technological advances more rapidly manifest than at any other period in history, creatives and audiences are hooking up more readily than once would have been credited as possible. This has touched off any number of very gratifying eventuations:
* there's now more music available than ever before in all history (in fact, the ability to access and possess any of the arts would make ancient kings furious with jealousy that the peonistas would be so graced; holy slubberdegullions and dakinis, hath The Maker no sense of magnitude and propriety???);
* technology has allowed most levels of creativity to express and manifest on a level of professionalism, and at a low cost, that would've been unthinkable in decades previous;
* more and more artists are able to create on various levels and get their work heard;
* and the level of hybridization between genres and modes is producing some astonishing work.
We're in the midst of a literally unrecognized Renaissance in music, yes right now this very minute despite the groans of dinosaur Boomer crits, who still seem to dominate the landscape, deep in their geriatric cups. That irrecognition derives in the fact that they're not terribly up on things because the modes of transmission so dear and familiar are in severe disarray:
* the mainstream has been in slow collapse for two decades;
* print magazines for what used to be the indies, which has now become the commons, have disappeared despite ever more independent music being around in increasing prolificity, though newstand journals covering the tattered remnants of the mainstream aren't doing TOO badly, slowly disappearing over time but still existent in sufficient numbers to keep consumers happy;
* and TV, in the ‘70's home to weekly rock and roll showcases with multiple groups, is almost totally music-free now, devoted instead to deliciously dark dramatic visual fare like Dexter, Criminal Minds, and so on (and, of course, there are trillions of bizarre comedic gigs that test the limits of... whoa, hey!, is it just me or is Sarah Silverman the new Dane Cook?).
Viewing such contradictory saliences has caused many a sage head to ask "WTF???" but to little avail. As the Four Lazy-Ass Horsemen of the shrieking Christian Mockpocalypse trudge wearily and apathetically forward, quizzicality and frustration reign resignedly. Things jes' ain't goin' as they should, y'all.
As a music critic with industry quotes pulled from his reviews literally daily, I get no end of odd electronic missives, I'm not even sure why half of 'em even were sent, but, in a recent e-mailer from a service going by the name of Indigo Boom (IB), I perused an inanely brief survey the company says it conducted, purportedly to surprise business types as to the imputed listening trends of the next generation, a commodities target. I'm inspecting it as an item of interest and perhaps as a warning. Per what's expected of we in the proletariat, I'm supposed to envision a gloriously brave new world because of the computer, and I do, I really do, but... I also see more of the same, over and over, just trannied up in diodes and relays, Plus Ca Change written in code.
The audience, we're told, of IB's poll was 18-year olds, but my suspicions are that the single year was chosen just to slant things toward a gateway crowd for their service (actually, Doubting Thomas that I am, I suspect the poll never occurred at all, but let's run with things, shall we?)... which appears to be little more in the way of exposure methods for musicians and their product than the start-up artist understands to do on on his or her own. IB, as far as their website indicates, was created as an automated no-human-interface PR service aimed at the tech non-savvy, the busy, and those not aware of any of what's going on around them... even just lazy bastards like me, were I so minded to pursue such shtuff.
Oh, and here are links to the pages we'll most be concerned with, in case you feel a need to preview and later check the veracity of my claims and innuendi (and you should, you most definitely should verify anyone's and everyone's words, as we've arrived at our currently sad global estate by listening to asshole liars – politicians, priests, rabbis, imams, radio and TV infauxtainers, textbooks, etc. – even though critics are exempt from suspicion, sent from God Hisself and rarely mistaken on anything... right?).This is the page I received:
And these are the ones I'll be mainly addressing beyond that:
From those portals, you can range throughout the site's complete public electronic face. IB offers to run one's music through "all the stores that count and dozens more, worldwide [emphases mine]," which first seems cornucopic. I mean, not only ALL the stores but dozens more besides. WOW!! That means thousands upon thousands of outlets in the couple hundred countries of the sphere. Wotta bargain!... but... but... wait a minute... how can you get them all and then more besides? I'm no Math major, in fact I'm all but innumerate, but isn't it impossible, outside Wall Street bullshit, to achieve more than 100% of anything? Let's see, hm, eleventy-ten, carry the two, cosine of sidereal infarction, invert the molesting enumerator, and we have... yep, it's impossible. Oh, but wait another minute! Numbers don't count, rhetoric does. See the page's “that count" phrase? I wonder who decides what counts? Hmmmmm.
Regardless, I see only 18 sites listed at the bottom of the page. Okay, maybe the others are second- and third-stringers and can be safely put in shadows, but... wouldn't it make more sense to show potential customers just how extensive your service is and how much they're getting for what's being paid rather than use over-large type and a display strategy making half your blazoning ad into negative space? Maybe it's just me, I'm just a crit and thus still not enough of a weasel to think like a businessman, dammit! There's probably some esoteric Mad Men principal at work here I'm just too friggin' stupid to grasp. Besides, I just ate, I don't want to throw up yet.
Regardless, what I've totted up so far goes against a lot of elementary advertising/business principals, but then, the entire on-line world of business has been a matter of upheaval after upheaval, so this might not be out of line. After all, we soon find that IB has incorporated the hallowed art of double charging. Not only does it exact a fee - not a bad one, actually, when it first says you can slam through them as many songs, albums, and, if I'm inferring correctly here, music vids as your heart desires (no, really, AS MANY as you want; flood 'em daily! literally!; go for it, Marmaduke!, that's what the frontispeice is sayin'!), but, uh-oh, they also dip their fingers into your royalties. You get 70% of your publishing due at the IB $60/yr. level, 80% at the $70/yr. level, and 85% at the $80/yr. level.
Now, when, say, Ignatz Brickbrain can garner 6 million views on YouTube for his zydeco-metal-Inuit-Lemurian rap version of Beethoven's 5th as interpreted through a crackhead hyperspatially into Foucault, that may pose an attractive possibility regardless of any other considerations... but Ignatz ain't a-gunna be using IB, is he? No, it's way too primitive for his needs at that point. Joe Schmoe's the cat who'll be licking IB's cream. So what's IB's interest in fishing for small fry?
I suspect it's a matter of volume versus individual payback: get enough payees to underwrite your baseline, and the rest is Profit Boulevard, so load 'em on, Jethro, we've parsecs of gigabytes to spare! Again, not a bad plan at base, at mere subscription level, but a 15% - 30% bite out of royalties on top of that? I dunno... sounds excessive. 10% I could see, especially from a large base, but 30%? Really? In the way of seeming scientific and crowd-based, IB took that survey of that very quizzical one-year bracketed control group (while never telling us the size: 3,000? 300? 30? Just 1?) but that's not terribly scientific process. I've seen such incredibly restrictive methodology suggested nowhere save perhaps on Family Guy or The Simpsons in one of Peter or Homer's delusional fantasies, but here's what IB said: "We asked 18 year old music lovers about their music habits. The results may be scary, but better to know the truth right?" Um, "scary"? More like lamebrained, rushed, cheap, and likely fallacious, but, okay, let's still roll with it and see what happened. Jason Gross, PSF head honcho, pays me gigantic bucks on this site, and I intend to retire off this one scathingly brilliant single article of investigation and invective.
IB's first question was "What is your preferred social media?" and the answer was "Instagram. Facebook is for old people (over 25), Twitter is for celebrities." I hope I'm not too hopeless a Grammar wolf, but the correct form of the interrogative would've been "What is your preferred social medium?" or "What are your preferred social media?" What does such infelicity say of IB's professionalism? Hope they didn't make too many SAT prep students scratch their heads, but the alleged response is interesting. Facebook's indeed now seen as being for older generations (but, er, 25 is old?), a change of perception that arrived rather swiftly, and, just as true, Twitter has more and more become Pittville, Clooneytown, Hollyglitz Wannabe City, a hollow domain swiftly grabbed by celebrity cognoscenti. On the other hand, I've no clue if Instagram is the venue of choice for anyone, I don't use any of that shit, but perhaps it is. Is that really news though?
The second question was "What makes you interested in an artist?" The answer came back as "Not interested in artists, only songs. IF the song is good, I might look into the artist. Probably not." If IB is faking any of this, it's doing a good job of it. Big Eddie Bernays, evil genius of the 20th century and by whose psychosocial engineering we all live, would be proud of them, as they'd set up a chess double-alley here.
There's general ambiguity as to what drives teen interests nowadays, and playing on it is always a great move for a mercantilist. However, I'm not prepared to accept that teeners are now more mature than adults and are eschewing modes of idolatry and popularity contests. It makes no sense, that's the age in which the trait is roaring, and I've seen no science to refute it. Nor, as a tutor of Language Arts for 10 years now, interacting with hundreds of high school and college kids, have I noted any quantum leap in human evolution in them, none whatsoever, just the expected small step beyond what they issued from. So this claim appears to be wholly a matter of IB playing both ends against the middle. And, sure enough, the “data" leads right into their producting service, perplexingly emphasizing singles over albums and EPs, though it doesn't ignore the latter and captures business well beyond. Good biz strategy, that: get ‘em coming ‘n goin'.
The trey card query was "What was the last album you bought or listened to?." The answer was: "I don't buy albums. I stream songs." Makes perfect sense... kinda. When I was a kid way back in the Pleistocene, I began collecting records by purchasing 45 RPM singles. A number of reasons dictated: personal economics, the fact that LP buying was still largely an adult activity, and I wasn't as deeply into music qua music as I soon became. By 18, thought, I was a full throttle LP fanatic and had stopped cadging 45s entirely, haven't bought one since, or the electronic version, many years later.
Has the milieu really shifted that violently? Have young consumers reverted to australopithecism? I'm not so sure they have. The 18 years olds I see are heavily into albums as well as single songs... but much more so albums. I think IB's making a slick false move on perception here. Things have changed a lot, but human nature tends to pass on from hand to hand with a goodly degree of conformity from generation to generation, especially development of aesthetics and consumption habits. I'm sure songs are streamed quite a bit, but one can't help but notice CD albums, also in stream form, still do very well and are always offered. I don't think 2014's 18-year olds are devoted per-song purchasers, as IB avers. I have to suspect to the point of conviction that this is a psychological push, another in Edward Bernays' propaganda arsenal.
[Wanna scare the shit out of yourself? Check Wiki on Big Eddie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays - and then continue with this essay.]
Number four was "How do you listen to music?" Two answers were had: "YouTube and Spotify." I won't argue that. It's kind of a throwaway question, and I could care less about modes. The far more important inquiry is the last one: "Do you listen to radio?" to which the answer was a firm and resounding "No," and that, a truism, has been one of the so-called "enigmas of our time"... though it shouldn't be. Music radio has been abandoned in droves since its uber-corporatization days in the ‘80's. I haven't listened to it since then and neither have friends and acquaintances unless through Sirius pay radio or similar (and I don't listen to that either; does it even still exist or has it been co-opted by Engulf And Devour Inc.?).
That mis-move was one of the music and media conglomerates' gigantic howling boners: doing away with personalized disc jockeys and their idiosyncratic tastes, running strictly formatted shows hosted by latterday versions of the Hal 9000 unit from 2001, A Space Odyssey. What we've had from that point on are soupy or plugged-in script readers fronting menus of sonics decided by suits via a combination of sterile focus groups, the company's holdings and interests, and God only knows what else.
IB then transposes itself to first person – not its own POV but yours – in another Bernaysian protocol asking the recipient (you) in his/her own (your) personna “So what do I do with this information if I want to reach a young audience?" forgetting, and trusting the e-audience didn't pay much attention, that a one-year slice of the market pie is far from mouth-watering, especially zeroed in on an age so classically prone to radical and swift change. No demographic is as flighty as those in the teen-aged years. Answering its fictional displaced self (you), IB advises: “Concentrate on one song at a time. Record, release, promote. Rinse and repeat."
Ho-ho-ho... "rinse and repeat"... fuhhhhhh-neeeeeee! That's a jes' folks tactic, another of Big Eddie's devices, as important as quoting the retail price, just more oblique. And one song at a time? The odds are that you'll be defeating yourself in so doing. It's simple math: among tens of thousands of songs issued damn near monthly, which do you think presents a better hook into the nebulous wild yonder: one song or a dozen? Only an idiot couldn't decide that. 12 songs also increase one's display of diversity, thereby fattening fate.
“Keep your music online over time. Grow your catalog and streaming numbers with patience" comes next. The first line is good advice, the second not. Staying on line of course increases the gamble that people will purposely or accidentally – far more accidentally than otherwise, trust me – catch something you've done, but... patience? In a market exploding like a matchlit weapons depot? Not a good idea. Flood the market, I say, but wisely. Crap will swiftly work against you. Craft your work, but put it out as soon as it's ready. Time does not favor you. Someone else may well cop your riffs even though they never heard them. That's the way creativity works.
“Try to get your song on other people's playlists. This is like planting seeds. They grow over time. Treat popular Youtube/Spotify playlists like radio stations. Get to know the owner and weasel your way on to his or her playlist." Sigh! Leave it to businessmen. One thing you can pretty much depend upon is the act of a venal rhetorician giving himself away, though this is, I hafta say, a bit surprising and eyebrow-raising.
“Weasel" is about the most inadvisable verb/noun to propose, infer, or denote to a client. IB's bizguy, and every capitalist (<- not a rhetorical buzzword, people; all we have in this and almost every country is capitalism, God help us), is talking about himself and his personal practice, not the client's. ‘Sides, getting on playlists ain't easy, Bertram, so being a weasel is exceedingly counter-productive. Take it from someone who's dealt with PR people for 30 years: they don't at all like being out-weaseled and can spot the attempt from galaxies away.
Indigo Boom is wrong when it imputes by rhetoric that all PR is expensive. It's not. It's not as cheap as DIY, which is what the company is silently addressing and trying to either help or co-opt, but there are many PR agencies which are quite reasonable. What I think IB's trying to do is sway its target, those without a lot of buckolas, and get in on what might be the last gasp as physical product hangs precariously on a precipice, overtaken by downloading, by purely electronic wares. IB's easing in as go-between for, to phrase it in Marxistic terms, lumpenproles and the lower-end proletariat. I think whomever runs the company sees what's happening and decided the arena was ripe for an incoming business opportunity. It's not a bad perception in and of itself, and IB's is potentially a very good service, but only potentially. Given their either clumsy or purposeful rhetoric, I just don't trust ‘em. I'm not sure you should either. I could be wrong but I don't think I am.
Even their “Trust is Everything" mini digi-logo is suspiciously akin to a Christian nudge-nudge wink-wink: a person looking like an anthropomorphic cross within enclosing hands symbolic of angel wings. Is this a subtle message or just more poor discretion in company self-presentation?
PR as a whole caters to musicians ranging from well-known prosperous acts on ridiculously good labels to very much non-wealthy artists who just are serious about getting their work out (labels, by the way, rarely do much PR work, instead letting it out to professionals if the artist wishes to pay for it). There are even agencies specializing in artists who don't have much cash, doing the best they can to advance the musics, usually from carefully compiled lists of knowledgeable well-written critics, honest venues, and radio stations that aren't payola oriented, share-owned by mega-labels, corporate conglomerates, or pre-programmed cybernetic automaticities. PR is by no means restricted to those with fat bank accounts or wallowing in celebrity.
IB then cites a few truisms:
“Radio is dead to young audiences. Forget about it. You won't get on the radio without an expensive PR person anyway. Internet radio is mostly rubbish and will not help you at all. Forget it. Make sure your song is on Youtube. Even if it is only as a cover picture with the song. Not being on Youtube is fatal."
I agree. It even offers this bit of advice in songs: “Avoid long intros... Research shows you have ten seconds to catch your listener before they switch or skip. Do not waste them." We are indeed an instant gratification culture, and the advision is sound. If you're already an established act, you can likely get away with a lengthy prologue (it's, y'know, sophisticated!); if not, it'll probably label you as a flake even when a necessary ingredient of the composition.
Then the service offers some of the best advice a band/musician can get: “Put some effort in proper cover design. A bad cover is a huge turnoff and dead giveaway." Sweet lord God Jesus, heaven almighty, Joseph, Mary, and Moses but that's GREAT advice! I can't tell you how many covers I've run across where I had no idea whatsoever what the music might be and thus passed the CD or LP by, only to regret that decision later on when I finally heard the work.
A cover quintessentially IS marketing. Sorry, but that's just the fact. The cover signals the consumer to look. If he or she doesn't look, you might as well not have published. The urge to look is followed by the urge to pick up the CD and see if it might indeed be the sort of music one is looking for. With that, there's now a decent chance your music will be purchased, no guarantee certainly but at least it made the transition from store bin to consumer hand and eye. Even if it the disc gets put back, the cover succeeded in its purpose. That's all a cover's s'posed to do, whether it contains art by Da Vinci or Ebeneezer Schmuckala. It's not a mini-museum for casual travelers but a signal that says “HERE! LOOK! THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!!!!"
When I scanned the bottom streamer of artist endorsements of IB, I couldn't help but note that all the names were Nordic. This led to discovering IB's based in Europe, particularly, as far as I can tell, ‘cause it isn't terribly forthcoming in many matters, in Norway and Sweden (offices in Oslo and Stockholm). It was also where I discovered that the advisory to submit as much as you want is very much open to heavy limitation for “whatever reason [IB] want[s]."
More, and this is where the rubber always meets the road, IB reserves the right to “collect and transfer to you all the money owed to you from the sale of your music," always the crux of music/business interface. Sure, they'd have to collect because you can't, you're not in Europe nor a business, but, as I always love to ask top-shelf musicians when I speak with them: “How do you know the numbers the label reports to you and pays you on are the real numbers? Have they ever let you inspect the books?" This causes fainting, head explosions, constipation, borga rigmus, shortness of pants, allergic snipe toxicity and even weeping.
NO ONE, not even the Beatles, has ever had a chance to inspect and backtrack on the figures record labels give artists, and many many tomes have chronicled what's happened when it's been tried (ya gotta have tons of money to hire the lawyers to attempt it, first of all; secondly, ya gotta be willing to wait years; thirdly, the label ALWAYS settles quite generously literally on the courthouse steps, so NO ONE has ever seen the books, been allowed to verify management-reported numbers; good gravy, y'all, how d'ya think the label Big Boys got so obscenely wealthy? Through honesty and fair dealing??? Maybe the Big Time isn't for you).
Okay, that being the case, what then about law differences and rights between countries? You're in the U.S. and IB is in Europe, how do the laws read in both territories regarding precisely what's being transacted? It would be a mistake to assume that norms in American law will also be norms in foreign law, a BIG mistake. How, then, do you approach any matter that may become contentious? And IB sure as fuck is safe and secure from you in their Norway digs, aren't they?, because you can barely afford to take a three day vacation ten miles away from home. I mean, that's why you used ‘em: they're cheap and you can't afford more. With an American company, you'd maybe have some chance in legal problems, but with a Euro outfit? Forget it.
So, beginning the sum-up, the question that arises when one hands anything over to any business is: is it worth the risk? I've presented a number of probably positive aspects to IB and quite a few more negative. I could be wrong in my suspicions and rhetorical readings, though I rarely am, ever, and the company might just be suffering from horrible unprofessionalism in the self-adverting department. On the other hand, I have the entire history of music/business on hand, and the data indicates that the most prudent course is, when more than a few anomalies emerge in anything, to run as fast and as far as you can away.
Not the most heartening prospect, I know, so let me put forward what I've proposed to a number of labels and PR agencies, all of whom think it's a peachy-keen notion but will never, ever, not in a million years, see manifestation. It's simply this: a number of labels need to get together and cooperatively underwrite a website devoted only to really good criticism – probably only of their wares, maybe of others' as well - by a pack of crits carefully selected by the participating labels for their chirographic and aesthetic merits. The site will need only to have a minimally functional editor whose task will be to serve as central organizer, not as whiphand or Bowdler of submitted manuscripts, and the crits need to get paid – not much, maybe just $15 per review for X amount of wordage.
Most importantly, the labels cannot ever interact with the writers, modify their work in the least respect, or cancel a review once it's been submitted. The reasons for those stipulations should be obvious, but there are other more exotic reasons as to why the suggestion is boneheaded, will not work, matters not available for inspection to the average consumer. In that case, let me present what's happened each and every time I've spoken with label owners, distributors, and others about this. After laying out the menu of particulars, which intrigue them, I always end, as I watch interest and moroseness oscillate in their countenances, by saying:
“But none of this will ever happen, will it?"
“No," the interrogatee always replies unhappily, “it won't."
“And we know why, don't we?"
“Yes, we do."
“It's because you're all businessmen first and foremost, and businessmen, far above and well beyond the public, know damn well not to trust other businessmen, don't they?"
“You be at the critics' and each others' throats a week after the first issue was published, wouldn't you?"
“And three-quarters of the participants would refuse to pay, wouldn't they?" “They would."
“The whole enterprise would be dead a month after it's debut, wouldn't it?"
Okay, okay, so things don't go quite as authoritarianly or sado-masochistically as that, I just like being a knave-ish Tin Hitler when among suits, though you'd be surprised how close a few exchanges were indeed like that, mainly because the people in question were amusedly familiar with my smarmily didactic approach to things but also because they held few illusions about what they and their fellows were engaged in.
The proposal stands, though. One thing I've earned through 30 years of writing music reviews is that the critic is now just as necessary as he once was, even more so, and the audience looks to us for help in making purchase and listening decisions. It only makes sense: there are all kinds of critics, and the consumer must find the ones in harmony with his or her own tastes. Artists or sites presenting sound bytes 30 seconds long do nothing (and the blurbs are ofttimes bafflingly mediocre, sections of the song where nothing's happening – in context, probably a cool contrast, but as intro material? Atrocious!). YouTube is better, but, as has been the case since the days of the 45, how do you know the entire CD is as good as what you're presently seeing/hearing? You need a critic for that. I suspect this instance alone is in good part responsible for IB's citation of the promotion of singles as paramount. It's wrongheaded but understandable. My question to the artist are: do you wanna sell one song or a dozen, and what's going to promote enthusiasm for your work: an incredibly overloaded website where you'll probably be ignored in toto or a personalized review?
Sorry, but critics are necessary, and in ways one might not have imagined. I have an interesting example. Martin Popoff's a good critic, and I know I can trust his work and mindset for this reason: in reading his Rough Guide to Heavy Metal, I find that everything he hates and derides I love, and that everything he loves, I hate and deride. It isn't the criticism per se, it's the constancy of taste he displays and defends. There is no such thing as a critic for everyone, and there never will be. Consumers must locate kindred aesthetic spirits and rely, and I use that verb VERY nervously, upon them for suggestions and indications. That's what I did in the ‘70's and ‘80's, and it was in fact locating Dean Suzuki that led me to understand that - beyond fluffers like Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau, and Rolling Stone - actual, true, honest, informative, reliable criticism could be had. Because of him, I became a critic.
Gather together a couple dozen top-notch critics for a multi-label site, pay the bastards something instead of demanding they free-boat, and you'll find people soon flocking to your site once decent notice of its existence can be established. There are thousands of review sites, most of ‘em suck donkey dix, but a really good one? People are hungering for it. I myself am the most prolific reviewer of CDs in America, quoted literally daily all over the world, I appear in liner note citations, I write liner notes, and my work floats all over the Web, but, because I'm a lone wolf (and always have been, even if only temperamentally in the olde daze) unaccompanied by inky compeers of comparable skill, the artists and labels don't get the wider exposures they deserve. I'm indie and doomed to remain so, a fate I'm not unhappy with, given the mainstream milieu. But is that good for art and artists?
There's a reason critics are always left out of the equation and discussions even though labels and musicians petition us ceaselessly: when we're good, we're not controllable and can be depended upon for a true critique... which just might not please either label, artist, or publisher (but will sit very well indeed with readers); and when we're bad, we gush and ooze so that readers soon come to ignore us because we're just blathering, which does no one any good, not even the quisling crit. Sorry to inform you, art world America, but your success depends upon critics. Prog rock bands once sold out arenas and large venues without breaking a sweat, now they eat one another on the way to hawk tickets at a corner bar. What the hell happened?
The critics, that's what happened. Visit any progsite and most rock sites and tell me I'm wrong. 95% of the scribblers are flaming idjits. Back in the days of Creem and Circus, as well as NME and Melody Maker overseas, the crits, as horribly wanting as most were, were responsible for whipping up enthusiasms. Then corporations waved a dollar and all whored themselves whenever they could find a berth. Criticism pretty much died... to be replaced by clowns like John Collinge, Darren Bergstein, et al? Are ya fukkin' me?
Here's the final proof: I've read for over 10 years now of myriad solutions to the malaise stultifying the music scene. Not a one of them has worked. Not one. IB's is just another in a long line of yawn-producing soon-to-fail tries (either that or they'll secure a sector of the market even more clueless than everyone else, making out handsomely in the process). Funny, but critics haven't been even peripherally mentioned in all the paraphernalianistic jabberwock. Loony advertisement schemes, weird associative gambits, fake journalism, “team playing," etc., etc., etc., and yet not an inch of movement worth discussing.
It's now become a Freudian double-bind. Good critics are scarce, most who might have been praiseworthy gave up and moved on long ago, probably never to return, or they've secreted themselves in obscure one-man websites. Yet... look around. All those thousands of DIY sites on the Web? The magazines on the racks? Newspapers? They all profligately employ criticism along with straight journalism. Why? Because people love it, hence the longevity of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Harper's, The Atlantic, even, God help us, Rolling Stone, and so on. Sure, most criticism everywhere is highly censored and abridged... BUT IT'S THERE! It's wanted, it's useful or at least used to be (now corporately co-opted and hence just salaried yeomanship), it's just a matter of its caliber. That's why I suggest as I do re: a completely un-editor-managed site of good writers, and that's why I only appear where publishers and editors agree to not touch a single word in my work unless I concur with the changes.
While all my past “compeers" in a couple dozen magazines are now lost and unknown, uncited and unremembered save in squirelly sites or lo-yield CDs published by buddies, I have more damn work than I know what to do with, grow in popularity monthly, am daily included in industry PR ads, and am considering starting a site to rescue the art of criticism from itself. And I'm a nobody. That's part of it, that absence of thrallship to any imprint or editor. It's exceedingly important, crucial. Criticism can save the music world, but it first needs its own Age of Reform and to understand a base ethos lost ages ago in almost all venues. Music underwent transmogrification, and it did the art nothing but good. Criticism went backwards, fell off the cliff, was taken captive by yobs and oiks, now malnourished almost to death. Nonetheless, I'm convinced good criticism is the salvation of music's woes.
But then, I would say all that, wouldn't I? I'm a friggin' crit. And, shit, was this article about IB, the music world, criticism, or me?
I need a drink.
MORE THOUGHTS ON THE MUSIC BIZ/MAGAZINES/PR
What I've found in modern PR while having CD reviews published by the FAME website and elsewhere presents the real case, not IB's slantings. Readers of my work have asked why I no longer appear in national magazines or huge websites. The answer is simple: I got sick to death of asshole publishers, asshole editors, asshole PR people, just assholes period. I've reviewed damn near every style extent and love progrock before and after all other modes but the labels and PR people? Well, in prog alone, save for Leonardo Pavkovic, his MoonJune label and a couple other enterprises, sweet Jesus, what a completely fucked-up environment top to bottom! Toxic as swamp water and completely retrograde to such a resplendent arts niche.
The fans? No problem, good people, though sometimes a bit arrested-growth in fervor and prejudices. The musicians? Intelligent, sincere, and well intended, artists from start to finish far more often than not. But the business side? God almighty, what a putrid cesspool, from hack crit to dipshit editor to moron publisher to ravening avaricious PR agency to vampiric distribution “service"... and, yeah, I include crits, about 75% of whom are suck-up zombie troglodytes. I got out of there to save my soul. It worked, so now I'm doing maverick freelance work, and here's what I've seen, most of it contrary to what IB avers:
The indies are now the real harvesting grounds because shitheel moguls no longer want to invest monies in the development of groups and individuals. Forget that Rush, carried by Mercury for over a decade before they hit the Big Time and literally turned around and saved the company that had put them in that position but was going under, that kind of harmonic interaction got flushed long ago. Trust any businessman nowadays, of any ilk, and be prepared to have your rectum enlarged ten sizes, so no one gets time to grow any more. Either hit the ground running with a million seller right off the bat or go fuck yourself.
However, how do The Biggies find that kind of talent beyond what it already owns? The shelf life of a Big Deal ain't what it used to be,things are moving too fast, where does one unearth The Next Big Thing for nuevo profitivo? Well, the indies of course. There is no ‘somewhere else' other than that spectrum, but there's an odd tension between it and the mainstream. Again, all mainstream activity is a shark pool, no aspect of it excepted, the entirety operating with only one goal: money, dollars, gelt, pelf, lucre, scratch, semolians, dubloons, greenbacks, specie, bread, loot, cabbage, ching, benjamins, scudi, moolah, the folding stuff, long green, lolly, dinero, clams, jack, lettuce, wampum... you know: BUCKS, Jackson!!! Fuck art, what sells and sells big?
This is contradictory to the ethos of the indies, which has no qualms with making a living off art, and good luck to 99.999% of ‘em in that hope, but possesses an unusually cultivated mindset on the proprieties ‘twixt art and commerce. It's thinking poses that the former should dominate the latter. This automatically registers as apocalypse in the dens and warrens of Glitter City and throughout Bizmerica, and thus both sides, rebels and Establishment, approach one another cautiously, when they do so at all. A lot of indie musicians are the new hippies: fuck the Establishment, they'll do it on their own or not at all.
Why caution, though, on the part of the sharks? Seems antithetical to Nature. Well, it's because there's no blood in the waters, not even all that many swimmers, and the killing machines are perplexed, used to the easy slaughter, to artists with zero business savvy who can be raped without even knowing it... until payday comes. Capitalism is, after all, just quasi-technologized feudalism, the extension of monarchialism and baronies into mercantilism, everything a sucker's game rigged in favor of the already privileged, those born into it, and whomever might have been savage enough to work their way into the capitalist world of legalized criminalities - sad, sure, but, at present, it's all we have. The indies were what started, back in the ‘80's, with magazine exposure – OP, Sound Choice (for which I wrote) and Option - promoting black market under-the-table vending. That is, new generations were operating within the system without the system knowing of it... and it worked. Yeah, to small change and pittances, but it worked.
Much of this arose because generations that reached teenhood in the ‘80's and after had, especially with the advent of the internet, unprecedented access to the history of music and its inter-dealings with business. It wasn't pretty. Not at all. Just ask the old blues guys, the first and second generation rock and rollers, first and second wave jazz cats and so on. Question anyone unwise enough to have dealt with the mainstream, and even with too many indie labels, without also having trotted in an army of lawyers behind them, and you'll soon cognize the nature of the beast. Mags like Punk Planet and Maximum Rock and Roll dealt directly with problem... even to the extent of printing Noam Chomskhy in their pages. Cats like Jello Biafra were Chomsky devotees, as I am, and carried his work over into their own; hence Biafra's forays into spoken word LP's and CD's and establishing his own imprint.
The Boomer generation gradually became equally hip and soon melded into the indies, YouTube, etc. Everyone was coming to understand that the posited dream of glamour, wealth, drugs, fame, and a chorus line of goggle-eyed groupies had always been just stick and carrot from the industry itself to whip the rubes into a frenzy and thus have as rich a pool to plunder as possible. The chances of making it big were realistically about the same as in the NFL: 1 in 10,000, long odds even for the most daring of gamblers. It was this cognition and a slew of others which chastened and tempered those not already engulfed by The Machine. We could now answer Jimi: we were experienced. Things were changing.
What I've been privy to while under the FAME imprint is almost shocking as against past experiences when I slung ink in Progression, Signal to Noise, Expose, OpEdNews.com and elsewhere. There, I encountered raving swine, literal pigs, in the PR biz, now I find a bevy of mannered, personable, and knowledgeable people who genuinely appreciate the artist's musics and the critic's appraisals of them, who oft take the time, as sometimes even their musicians do, to every now and again write and say “Thanks, much appreciated!" to critics... even when the review might not be a rave, might be honestly critical in less than glowing terms.
In fact, though most crits are completely unaware of it, some PR people hope for a really good negative analysis of certain clients in order to better argue the artist into a direction that would be better for all concerned. It's not common, but it happens. Besides that, the taste exhibited by these agencies and their personnel is exceptional. I was unprepared for that, had in fact, as I entered FAME (Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange, now greatly expanded in genre coverages since I entered the lists), asked editor/publisher Dave Pyles if he'd be willing to tackle the PR peeps, which he agreed to, only to very soon find out I needn't have worried in the first place. This may come as a shock to those who've read my pre-FAME oeuvre, especially with Kayos Productions when I interviewed Dream Theater, but it's true.
The fireworks, guns, and ammo many lament are now missing from my work don't understand: those resulted because the hack idiot publishers I wrote for (the aforementioned two idiots plus Peter Thelen, David Ciaffardini, the squamous Gnosis group, etc.) did their level best to leash my words to a standard of hive consciousness, often butchering them (which became my #1 reason to leave each). When that gambit failed, I then started receiving the bottom of the CD slush pile, the questionable unknown stuff, as punishment.
Ahhhh, but this inadvertently is what made my notoriety. Readers were suddenly delighted. Finally, on the bad stuff, they had someone who pulled no punches and wasn't trying to be butt ‘n beer buddies with the musician, the label, the PR peeps, the editor, the publisher, or fellow crits. Instead of ceaselessly blubbering about the wonderfulness, the joy, the grandiosity, they transcendent King Crimson-ness of every single poot, fart, and squeek that issued from neo-proggers, fallen past masters, and hacks aspirant to the realm eternal, someone was finally fucking saying “Yo, this is shite!" My editors had no clue what to do. I was yo-heaved from every venue that I didn't resign. Their fears? My vitriol and honesty might dent advertising revenues.
Currying favor has no part in arts criticism and does a disservice to all, yet that comprises the lion's share of the rock world, nearly completely the progrock ecosphere, and too much elsewhere. How was one to get past all that so that the intermediaries didn't fuck up the chances for art to have a fair shot? Thus I years ago went indie. I'd had enough.
My experience is not atypical, I just refuse to sit silent about the incredible hypocrisies in the business and its aspects. Rock, prog,and related fields have precious few real crits, the lion's share being middle managers of propaganda writ large or small. I mean, Christ almighty, when idiots like Rolling Stone's resident zombie David Fricke will laud the half-assed Fanny as one of the best bands ever in rock and roll just b'cause some enterprising dimsuit, in the wake of Legends producting and the increase in nostalgia as Boomers head for the tar pits, decided to gamble on a two-fer box of the band's almost completely ignored oeuvre, who's the whore and who the critic?
In the business of art though, not much has changed, not really. In one form or another, all the ingredients are still very much necessary. The triumvirate still exists: art needs artists to create it, promotion to expose it, and an audience to appreciate it, not just for Led Zeppelin and Pavarotti but all art.
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