‘Not This Way’

Just-completed mix of Amy Willey’s “Not This Way”. I’m very happy with this one. Excellent song, great mix by The Jarv, and you can’t argue with the rhythm section of Jerry Marotta and Tony Levin!


Crisis on Infinite Dumbo

“Yuppie Exodus From Dumbo” came out on Tuesday. Some blogs were kind enough to give it a mention. But it appears that because the song references a particular New York neighborhood, the story of the release is getting picked up by a number of real estate and neighborhood life blogs. In that odd context, the lyric seems to become difficult to interpret – and so all day I’ve been fielding questions about what the song is really about: Gentrification? Artists? Yuppies? Hipsters? Me?

I’m not crazy about explaining lyrics, but I’ve also never been asked by so many strangers before and it’s making me a little nervous. So here goes:

If you believe the legends, a long time ago Dumbo was occupied mainly by artists and craftspeople.
The area eventually gentrified. Many of those people couldn’t afford to stay, and they were replaced by people who could. Some came for the view; some came for the lifestyle, but very few of them moved there to actually make shit. And in the past year, when the economy collapsed, many of those people were forced to leave too.

I moved to Dumbo because I thought it would be an inspirational place to get my work done. I bought the whole line, and I love the place still. Yes, I was “priced out” of the neighborhood… if I’m working two jobs, yet I still can’t afford to pay my bills AND make music to my satisfaction, then I will make lifestyle adjustments. In this case, when my lease was up, I took the opportunity to do something I’d wanted to do for years – leave New York City entirely and move to upstate NY.

But “Yuppie Exodus” isn’t my story. My story’s fuckin boring!

It took me several days to move out of my place; in that time I shared the freight elevator with a fair number of neighbors who were leaving as well. And the streets were teeming with moving vans – I mean it was non-stop, and all out, no in. That is what inspired the song. I wrote it mid-move, and recorded a scratch vocal in my apartment. I left a lot of that rough vocal in the finished product because you can hear the train going over the bridge in the background, which I really liked.

Why the wax cylinder? Because I’ve always wanted to make one of those; because this particular song felt medium-appropriate to me, with its Dixieland feel; and because I thought the industrial-era format referenced the Brooklyn aesthetic well. Also, Michael Doret and I had been talking about working on a project together for some time, and when you have the opportunity to collaborate with an artist of his caliber, you figure out something awesome to do.

I appreciate that the song is being considered a statement on gentrification… it kind of is, but maybe not in the way it’s being taken in some quarters. If the song is saying anything about gentrification, it’s that it can cut both ways – someday you may be the one priced out of your neighborhood.

I should probably also acknowledge, for the record: I don’t like yuppies. I don’t like hipsters. And if you’re ever listening to a song of mine and wondering who it’s about, a good rule of thumb may be this: if you take offense at the lyric, it’s probably about you!


The artist as beggar

Just want to let you know that Bob Lefsetz has been posting some particularly excellent stuff of late. I’ve dogged him (to you, my three readers) about never offering solutions, but then he wrote this:

The Long Haul

It’s abstract, but that’s really what makes it so useful.

And I was cheering when I read last Sunday’s piece on Imogen Heap’s entitlement issues:

Imogen Heap Sings The Blues

It’s time to get over this “artist as beggar” thing. Like this Kickstarter shit. I’ve supported friends who have used it, but come on. If you’re so passionate about making something, work for the money to make it. Don’t fucking beg.

Seriously, what is it you want? You want to make music on your own terms? Then why are you offering friends and family (or, as you think of them, your fanbase) a stake in your album in exchange for a handout? What are you really doing this for?

I’ve worked two jobs for the better part of a decade so I could make music exactly the way I want it. Music is my thing. I don’t want to be married; I don’t want to have kids. I couldn’t care less about any of that shit. I have songs in my head, and I want them out where I can listen to them. With the words I write, as I write them, arranged as I arranged them, played as I want them played, recorded as I want them recorded, and packaged as I want them packaged.

The idea of a “day job” is anathema to wannabe artists for some reason. When I ask these folks why they’re so averse to employment, the explanation I’m most often given is: When I get home from work, I’m too tired to make music. What?

People have the energy to do all sorts of things when they get home from work. How about raise kids? I hear that requires at least as much energy as dicking around on a guitar. Yet I know quite a few people who seem to have no problem doing it after a day of work.

I spend the money that I earn from one job on bills and material pleasures; I spend the money I earn from the other on my music. If I get an idea in the middle of the workday, I hum it to myself in a voicemail. I create when inspiration strikes, I edit when it doesn’t, and my shit gets done. On lunch breaks. In the middle of the night. Am I tired? Sure. But why is that bad? I hear people complain all the time about how tired they are in tweets and Facebook statuses. Everybody’s tired. If you really want to do something, you’re gonna do it no matter how tired you are.

Then there’s this one: I need to be free so I can devote 100% of my time to my art!

First of all, that’s not what you’re gonna do if you’re “free”. I know; I’ve been there. There’s no urgency. You fuck around. The work expands to fill the time.

Second, if you do nothing but “make art”, then you get no life experience other than “making art”. What the fuck are you going to “make art” about? I couldn’t have written “You Are Boring The Shit Out Of Me” or “Now I Have A Job” if I didn’t work in an office.

I went to visit Sean at Berklee during our freshman year of college; I thought I would be intimidated by all the supercool music cats there. Instead I found myself surrounded by nerds who had spent high school practicing scales in their bedrooms. Their scintillating conversation involved such subjects as what key the background music on the TV was in. You gonna write a deep and meaningful lyric about that?

The two best things that ever happened to me as a songwriter: going to a liberal arts college and entering the workforce. What gives lyrics depth and resonance is their human element; what gives them richness is the experience you draw upon to describe things, your vocabulary and your references. If you only interact with one kind of person in your life, or do one kind of thing, how deep and rich are your songs gonna be? Look at all the ’80s hair metal bands that got signed just out of their teens. The only thing they could write about was partying. They didn’t know anything else. When they mentioned having a job in a lyric, it was in passing so they could get to the part about how they’d rather be at a party. They had to do it that way; they didn’t know what a job was. They just knew it was something bad, something that you couldn’t do and party at the same time.

When we’re in public school, we learn about the de’ Medicis, the Roman Catholic Church, and the concept of “patronage”. According to your 10th grade social studies teacher, an artist cannot create without a patron. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d speculate that this shit is intentionally slipped into the curriculum to marginalize any potential artists in the audience.

Without patrons, where would Michelangelo and Mozart have been? Why, penniless in the gutter, of course – see how Mozart died broke after leaving his patron? Artists are weird! Deficient! They have no common sense! They cannot manage their own financial affairs! Without someone else handling the money, the artist becomes the starving artist!

But… if artists are born without common sense, then why do people turn to song lyrics and poems when they have real-life problems? If that shit was written by perspectiveless weirdos with no grasp on reality, what would be the point of looking for wisdom in it? Artists have plenty of sense – arguably the most sense.

An artist can be his own patron. He can manage his business affairs. But the concept of the self-sufficient artist is a frightening one to the powers that be, one that needs to be disqualified during our formative years.

Imagine an artist beholden to no one, free to make and disseminate his work as he sees it, no matter how incendiary. Is there such an artist in the world today? Who is not corporate sponsored, or status-obsessed, or beholden to friends and family? Who doesn’t think about what he has to give up to someone else so he can get something?

Then there’s this idea that an artist’s work is only validated by one of two “successes”: public adoration or monetary return. Do I get back the money that I spend on music? Not directly, no. Do you get back the money you spend on vacation? When I’m making music, I feel like I’m on the greatest holiday you can take – and I take it almost every day. Each time I hop in the car and listen back to my music, I’m reminded why I work so hard on it. I don’t need cash back, or the approval of strangers.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy having fans. I throw everything of myself into the music; if it resonates with someone, then we share something in common. This is a meaningful connection, and I appreciate it. Nobody likes my music because of how I look; I look like shit. The people who like it do so because they identify with it – which, if I’m writing honestly, means they identify with me.

And it’s not to say I haven’t received tangible benefits from making music. In fact, it’s probably fair to acknowledge that everything I have, I have because of it. My best friends are the people with whom I make and talk music. I met LB when she came to one of my shows after finding a CD of mine in a Colorado record store, and now she is the most important person in my life.

My college degree is in English and philosophy. Yet I’ve made my living as a graphic designer for fifteen years. How? Using the self-taught skills I developed in order to physically and electronically package my music. Beyond that, I’ve been offered job opportunities – and even housing – simply because someone liked the music I make. But it’s not a chicken-or-egg thing; I made the music first, my way, and then they came.

If you want to create something, create it, down to the last atom of your vision, no matter how long it takes. Release it into the world however you can – it might make some cool person’s life a little better. It might make some asshole’s life a little worse, which may help him find the perspective to not be such a fucking asshole. You never know.

If people give a shit about your art, awesome; if they want to give you money for it, even awesomer. But don’t wait for someone to come along and bail you out, and don’t ever go begging. Let work set you free. Work is good.


On magazines and the iPad

My pal Matt Biscuiti likes to ask my opinion on the future of magazines. I’m not sure if this is because he actually wants to know it, or if he just likes to watch me rage.

I worked in the magazine business for 15 years. I am one of a lucky few people who still do, though it is no longer my main source of income. I love print magazines – the way they are made, the way they present information, the thought and imagination that goes into everything from the images to the text to the layout to the paper stock to how they’re bound. But the Internet has destroyed print, mostly because a bunch of Baby Boomer assholes got greedy and interacted unwisely with a technology they didn’t understand.

Which, come to think of it, is the same reason the Internet was able to destroy the music business.

I don’t think either industry is coming back – at least, not any way like it was. And I could go on at length about both, but I gotta go have dinner with my friend Al, so I’ll leave that for some other post. I do want to share a question that Matt just e-mailed me, along with my answer.

First, though, I ask you to keep in mind that what makes magazines and newspapers money is ads, not sales of the actual printed product. Craigslist has virtually eliminated classified ad revenue, and no matter what that’s not coming back. So the question for periodicals is how to maximize the remaining potential ad dollars – not necessarily how to get people to purchase their magazine or newspaper. If you can tell advertisers that 100,000 people will see their ad, then the advertisers will buy, and your periodical will stay afloat whether most of those readers pay the cover price or not. That’s long been the idea behind cheap and free subscriptions.

The Web has killed print because these dipshits who put all of their content online for free didn’t realize that the ad paradigm is different on a computer screen. People can block ads and scroll past them; we’re trained to ignore banner ads. Ads generate a much smaller response on the Web than on the printed page, and thus are worth a lot less – so much less that you can’t keep your business open with revenue from online ads. That’s money publishers were counting on when they made their product free on the Internet (information is the product; not the printed piece, which is just the delivery system) and now they can never go back to charging for online content. Oops.

Putting content behind a pay wall is not really about bringing in revenue from readers. It’s about making it less convenient to read on screen, thereby encouraging people to they go back to the print edition, where ads are actually worth something. Print ads are hard to ignore; they’re tangible and they last for as long as that copy of the periodical exists. They have value that the ephemeral Web ads don’t.

Okay, that was two more paragraphs than I intended to write on this subject. Before I bore you with any more of that shit, here’s Matt’s question:

MB: So has the designer in you been inspired by the iPad yet, or do you still think the business model won’t make up for all the $ given away by the free interwebs?

And my response. I welcome comments on this as it’s a debate I’m passionate about. (Wouldn’t be sharing it here otherwise.)

Newspapers and magazines need one of two things to happen:
- Apple adds a section to its iBookstore for periodicals, with a proprietary reader that you can use in iTunes on any computer.
- Everyone in the world gets an iPad.

Anything else won’t be enough.

People go to the iTunes store for music, the App store for apps, and the iBookstore for something to read. But now every magazine is building its own app in the App store – the wrong store! – just to rush something out so it can say it has IT’S OWN APP, we’re “hip”, we’re “with-it”, wow!!!!

Huge mistake – only people who already want that particular magazine will even care that the app exists. No exposure to potential new readers.

Magazines and newspapers are reading material – the race should be on to work out a standard, but flexible, iPad magazine format which would be available in the iBookstore, along with everything else people buy to read. There would be cross-pollination on a virtual magazine rack, and it would be one less thing for people who want reading material to think about. And back issues would be easy to format and sell, complete with ads (which would help periodicals increase ad rates – “your ad will be in people’s faces for as long as they’re buying our back issues”).

This iPeriodical format should also be readable with a viewer in iTunes for everyone who doesn’t want an iPad. The iPad would still be the best way to experience the electronic magazine, but not the only way. And for fuck’s sake, every single periodical still has to take all its content down from the free web!

Honestly, all of these magazine apps seem to be overpriced and stupid. A 500MB download for one issue of Wired, at higher than subscription prices?! What the hell is the point of that? Doesn’t matter how good it looks if no one will bother with it.



‘Dear Friends And Gentle Hearts’

Here’s a rough demo I did up yesterday for the new Rebellion album, when I should have been unpacking.

I apologize for the sketchy vocal. I tend to flatten out on the high notes when I record at home – it’s a longstanding mental block that has to do with the neighbors being able to hear me.

“Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts” is all that was written on the sheet of paper found in Stephen Foster’s pocket when he died, penniless. Nobody knows if it was to be the first line of a song or a suicide note.