Monday, February 22, 2016

In Memoriam - The Onion

     For as long as there has been the Internet, there has been The Onion. 

     I don't know if that's true, and I'm certainly not going to fact-check it, but damn it, that's how it feels to me. Before I hid people from my newsfeed, before I shuffled the positions of my Top 8, even before I changed my away messages, there was The Onion. In my formative years, I can remember piss-crying myself with laughter as my best friend and I read about a fictitious pudding factory that exploded, dooming the residents of the nearby town to a gooey, delicious demise. Later, I would come to enjoy the sporadic but always delightful op-eds by the almost certainly racist Herbert Kornfeld, including such gems as Accountz Reeceevin' Ain't For No Candy-Ass Temps, and Keep Your Fucking Shit Off My Desk. Though in recent years I may be guilty of simply chuckling at headlines instead of "giving the full click", I have continually delighted in the poignant literal irony of the articles I come across. One of these, Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life, remains my bedrock, no-question-about-it, favorite piece of satire I've ever read, and I'm proud to say that I am following its advice as I write these very words. 

     So last week, when I noticed that the Onion articles in my newsfeed started reading like unfunny, thinly-veiled puff pieces about Hillary Clinton, I started to wonder what was up. As it turns out, Univision, a company co-owned by one of the Clintons' biggest (read: richest) supporters recently purchased a 40 percent controlling share of the company. You can read all about it here (Ha Ha: Hillary Clinton’s Top Financial Supporter Now Controls “The Onion”) and here (Hillary’s Top Donor Just Bought The Onion — Started Publishing Propaganda Immediately) because let's face it, I'm not here to provide you with "facts". I'm here because this is bullshit. 

     It's always depressing when satire loses its edge, like The Simpsons after season 9, or Tom Sawyer Abroad. 


Yep, you saw that right. That's Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in a motherfucking hot air balloon. I haven't read this book since I was 11 years old, but as I recall, the lovable duo that singlehandedly set the bar for American literature fly around the world and make fun of Arabs or something. (That's probably why it hasn't been banned from American schools yet). Anyway, these sad works, dwelling in the shadows of former achievements, prove that even masters such as Ol' Langhorne can eventually lose their touch and end up jumping the shark. 

At least he got to go into space before he died.
    However, that's not what's going on here. The Onion writers didn't suddenly forget how to be funny after two decades, they got fucking co-opted. While an article like Female Presidential Candidate Who Was United States Senator, Secretary Of State Told To Be More Inspiring might seem at first glance to contain a glimmer of relevant satire, in reality, it is nothing more than an un-ironic listing of Clinton's previous political positions underneath a campaign-quality photo. Jesus Christ, next time just post the URL to her Linkedin page and save on staffing costs. At least for that one, however, I can take comfort in the fact that what is essentially a campaign advertisement is so unfunny and boring that nobody who has ever previously read an Onion story could possibly mistake it for the genuine article. Not so the case with Clinton Credits Nevada Victory To Inescapable, Pitch-Black Tide Of Fate. It's as if a think-tank full of stuffed suits in a nuke-proof bunker half a mile underneath of the Pentagon were paid time-and-a-half to read through the Onion archives and pantomime, to the best of their ability, some watered-down, off-brand, Payless Shoes version of the witty hyperbole that once made these articles fun to read. Don't fucking pretend that your agenda-driven, self-congratulating, politico-masturbatory garbage article is even remotely doing anything other than squelching any potential criticism of your darling candidate with the power of obscene amounts of money.  Don't you use phrases like "pitch-black tide of fate from which no man, woman, or child could ever hope to escape" to try to fool me into thinking that you're some hip, up-and-coming comedy writer who's got his or her finger on the pulse of the youth instead of a bought-and-paid-for PR/Poli-sci dual major straight out of Georgetown University. And way to hammer it home with a sentence like "At press time, Clinton was reminding supporters there was still plenty of work ahead to secure a win in South Carolina next week." I know you're trying to mimic contrast for comedic effect, but your stupid, transparent commercial at the end of the article basically came through my wifi, assumed human form, and put a bumper-sticker on my car. Its as if to say "All jokes aside, Hillary's really hard working!" Are you fucking serious? Is that my take-away here? I came to this website to laugh at the horror of the human condition, not register to vote in the Iowa Corn-Dog Straw Caucus or whatever happens next Tuesday, so give me a break. 

     Again, it begs the question, why even write articles? Why even go through the motions? Univision has clearly asserted the fact that they can buy off a large website and stifle unfavorable messages, so why not just own it, guys? Take down your pseudo-satirical, faux-meta-Machiavellian bandwagon bullshit and just link the front page of The Onion to the super-pac donation site. You've got a better chance that someone will accidentally enter their credit card information than that anyone will actually believe that this website is still contributing anything of value either comedically or intellectually. 

     I know its probably too late, but I want to make it clear that I'm not making a point about Hillary Clinton. However, I can understand why it seems that way, and I'm looking forward to hearing about how I am an anti-feminist, pro-rape, patriarchal chauvinist who not-so-secretly yearns for the social climate of the American Revolution. If my reservations about the puke-rich cohorts of the aristocracy buying and selling vessels of satirical commentary for their own gain make me some kind of suddenly counter-progressive "Bernie Bro", well so be it (I guess?). 

     My point is this: we need satire. We need Mark Twain, and we need H.L. Mencken. We need the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight, and The Simpsons. We live in a social climate where moneyed interests own nearly every news outlet (which includes the shows I just mentioned), We live in a time when the totality of your political views may well be a product of the op-ed pieces algorithmically placed into your Facebook newsfeed as a function of your clicks, likes, word-usage, and event attendance, virtually assuring that you will never accidentally read an opinion with which you disagree. Satire is the last bastion, the last domino to fall, because in the face of ever-increasing sums of money being spent to sell you a candidate, it critiques our environment in a way that actually requires some brainpower to decode and process. To silence that criticism is far more dangerous than the constant bombardment of attack ads and polarizing opinion pieces trying to buy your approval every election cycle. It is dangerous because satire urges us to laugh, not to hate. It reminds us that even though the issues we face are important, we can still have a sense of humor, and can maybe lighten the fuck up a little before we resort to calling a group of people fascists, racists, Nazis, or Anti-Christs.  

     And so with that, I bid a fond farewell to my constant companion, The Onion. Though your toothless, spineless ghost may forever continue to haunt the tubes of the World Wide Web, I will never forget the effect you had on me. You were loved by many, and you said what needed to be said. Until you became a billionaire's bitch. 

Well, there's always The Hard Times. (Please read my submission! Please?)

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Death of Intellectual Property

     There is a common misconception that many, if not most students take with them from primary school in the US. Whether this misconception is explicitly taught or simply implied may vary from case to case, but it should at least be familiar to everyone. The premise is this: The Native Americans had no concept of land ownership. Besides the fact that this premise dismisses the heterogeneous nature of the peoples, cultures, and customs of pre-colonial America, it is also false. "Property rights, supplemented by customs and traditions where appropriate, often produced the incentives that were needed to husband resources in what was frequently a hostile environment"(Anderson).

     It was not a conceptual void that laid the groundwork for aggressive and most often one-sided colonial expansion of European settlers, but simply a differing view of ownership that was forcibly delegitimized in the wake of a turbulent period in history.

"So Native Americans [...] did have concepts of private property and land ownership [...] but European systems did not recognize the social and legal frameworks that undergirded it. If a claim did not have the force of European legal recognition, then for them, it did not exist" (Khosikulu).

So why is this misconception so easy to believe? It could be, in one sense, because it is philosophically relatable. Land was here for millions of years before the first human was born, and will be here long after the last human dies (or, more optimistically, leaves to settle elsewhere). Our only claim to a piece of it lies in a physical or electronic document, the validity of which is only maintained by the goodwill of the prevailing legal institutions (as the Native Americans found out). Perhaps it is very easy to imagine a culture that realizes the temporary and ultimately futile nature of a contract with earth.

     With this in mind, we must wonder what the future holds for the concept of intellectual property, a concept in every way more nebulous than that of land ownership. After all, land is physically persistent, able to be seen and felt. Intellectual property has no such advantage, for while the manifestations of ideas can exist in the physical world, the ideas themselves cannot. If someone has a revolutionary idea for some product, method, or work of art and then dies suddenly, did they, for that brief second, create property? Was that property suddenly destroyed? Or is the concept that a person can own a sequence of thoughts fundamentally ridiculous?

     These questions are perhaps better left for philosophers, but with this framework in mind, I'd like to put forth the argument that with our technological advances, the existential rules for intellectual property are changing, much like the ownership rights of the Native Americans hundreds of years ago. The scope of intellectual property laws and what intellectual property can be considered to be is very broad, so to contextualize this argument, I will examine the effect that these changing rules have had on the music industry. It may well be that in the future, this industry will be seen as the first domino to fall, the canary in the mine shaft, or any number of other cliches that describe the fundamental restructuring of what we, as a society, think of as property.

"Want to buy a Tower Records?" ~ Justin Timberlake, The Social Network

The idea that Napster killed Tower Records may not be quite as off the mark as the misconception about Native American property rights, but it isn't quite accurate either.

"Even after the dawn of Napster and online music piracy, [Tower Records CEO] Solomon's belief in people's general willingness to pay $18 for a CD stubbornly persisted. ...Solomon thought people would always want physical record collections--an unsound prediction that ignored the rise of mp3 players" (Leon).

    Despite questionable business choices on the part of the CEO, the liquidation of large music retailers such as Tower Records was inevitable. Music, the sequencing of sound waves at varying frequencies, is as old as humanity itself, and yet, only for a very small fraction of this time have we had the ability to reproduce it (via written music). For an even shorter period of time, (roughly since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph cylinder in 1877), has it been possible to commercially replicate music in a physical medium, and to own or sell that medium for profit.
In a relatively short span of time, physical recordings took on a variety of forms; records, 8-tracks, cassette tapes, and compact discs, until finally, the .mp3 (among other digital files) revolutionized not only how music is purchased, but how it is not purchased.

     The above chart takes digital sales into account, and yet still displays an industry-crippling loss of sales over the past decade and a half. The often-heard arguments that music piracy either did not affect or somehow benefited the music business have been proven wrong by the sales data of a few short, painful years. Today, the decision to purchase music is just that; a decision, not a necessity. Consumers are fully aware that anyone with even a novice-level ability to navigate the Internet can find and download entire artist catalogs for free. The efforts made by companies to bridge this gap by monetizing digital and streaming services has in no way made up for the loss accrued.

"The recently published sales figures of RIAA give no reason for musicians' optimism. Since streaming, subscription and SoundExchange payouts account for nearly a third of the revenue from digital music sales, the musicians' income from digital and physical music sales will further decrease. Just a small group of superstars, whose songs are streamed millionfold - besides solid CD and download sales - will benefit from such a development"

     All of this begs the question; once the tangible medium for intellectual property becomes obsolete, how can ownership rights be effectively enforced when the fruits of millions of dollars' worth of investment can be gotten in seconds for free (assuming adequate bandwidth)?
This is not to say that attempts are not made to safeguard copyright protections. Music piracy remains illegal, illicit file sharing sites are regularly shut down, and sometimes, high profile arrests are made, such as with Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom in 2012. As of this writing, however, these efforts have yet to return to music sales to anything resembling their previous levels.

     Besides the huge roadblocks to effective enforcement of copyrighted music theft, another gauntlet remains on the horizon for this industry. Most music consumers alive today have at least some recollection of owning or purchasing music in a physical medium. The recent upswing in vinyl sales could potentially be attributed to nostalgia; emergent twenty and thirty-somethings with disposable income and vague recollections of growing up in a house with their parents' record player. In other cases, teenagers might recall the first CD they purchased at a store "when that was still a thing." What will the situation be like in ten years when no wistful tactile memories remain? How about in twenty? It is reasonable to conclude that soon, the demographic to whom albums were marketed so aggressively for the latter half of the last century may not even realize that music was ever something that had to be purchased. Furthermore, they might not realize that it was something that ever could have been purchased. The idea that entire corporations were created to sell less than 1GB worth of music on little pieces of plastic may seem absurd and ridiculous to them. In fact, their concept of intellectual property, at least insofar as it relates to music, may not even exist. At the very least, it will be vastly different.

      As mentioned above, the music industry may very well be the spark that starts the fire for the cultural and legal redefinition of the entire concept of intellectual property. Mp3s are relatively small. They can be downloaded quickly and stored easily en masse. Of course, however, download speeds and storage capacity increase constantly. Books, movies, video games, and apps all suffer from a similar weakness in that they require nothing more than a phone, laptop, or tablet to utilize. Which industry will be the next to fall? Several video rental chains have already been put out of business by the advent of streaming. Indeed, streaming services seem to have the upper hand now, but will the same be true when we can fit 500 movie files on our smart watches and Chromecast them directly to the 60-inch HD screen in our living rooms? How about when we can transfer them to someone else's watch just by touching the two of them together? At that point, a $9.99/month Netflix subscription might not seem like the great deal it once was.

     None of this is to put forth the argument that intellectual property, as we define it today, is not valuable. Quite to the contrary, besides the need for food, shelter, and companionship, there is nothing more essentially human than the free exchange of ingenuity, creativity, and expression. Those who invent, express, and create artwork, in my opinion, should be afforded the same opportunities for success as those who provide those aforementioned necessities. The problem lies in the fact that while we still apply the same general conditions for success to intellectual property as we do for physical property and services (i.e., financial viability in a marketplace), intellectual property will soon have no more horses left in the race, so to speak. Houses and cars cannot be illegally downloaded over an Internet connection, but an entire life's work of novels or screenplays can. Nobody can digitally replicate an afternoon of physical work invested in running a cleaning or lawn service, but they can copy ten years' worth of content from a movie studio or recording company in about the same amount of time. Intellectual property laws provide ownership of ideas, but if one owns something and yet can not stop others from owning it at their whim, what does ownership signify in the first place?

     The rules that govern intellectual property, at least as of now, are becoming more obsolete and unenforceable every day, much like those that gave the Native Americans the rights to their own land. Just as it was then, rules that have no meaning to the offenders will be subverted, ignored, and transgressed. In the coming years, we will be forced to redefine what intellectual property is, what it should be, and perhaps, if it is actually property at all.

  1. "Property Rights Among Native Americans" Anderson, Terry L. 2/1/1997.
  1. "Colin Hanks Explores the Rise and Fall of Tower Records" Leon, Melissa 10/18/2015
  1. "Music Sales Over the Years: 2014 Year-End Soundscan Data" Brown, Jake. 1/5/2015
  1. "The Recorded Music Market in the US, 2000-2013" Tschmuck, Peter. 3/21/2014
  1. "How Accurate is the Popular US Perception that Native Americans Lost Their Land 'Because They Didn't Understand the Concept of Ownership" (Reddit AskHistorians thread) 2013 Khosikulu

Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Review: Comet 67P/C-G's New Material Uninspired, Predictable

A big, rocky sell-out

As anyone closely following the news emanating from the enormous intersection spanning the world of popular music and the realm of the scientific studies of celestial bodies well knows, 
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has just released new music, prompting an insane amount of buzz in the press. Rosetta Blog, Discovery News,, and a host of other hip, pop-culture websites are treating 67P's latest like its the greatest thing to happen to recorded music since the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper.

Unfortunately, this is a tune that all true music fans have heard before. Its the classic opus: the formerly unknown artist, the starving musician toiling in obscurity, making meaningful and creative music suddenly gets a little mainstream success and bam!, all the substance leaks out like so many ionized particles through a pseudo-atmosphere of electrically conductive plasma.

It would be unfair to say that 67P's new music is "unlistenable" or "a complete pile of steaming space-garbage", but the terms "derivative" and "uninspired" come to mind. Clearly, this is an attempt to capitalize on the sudden attention from a massive new market. We've seen this kind of thing countless times in the past when an artist suddenly explodes in, say, Japan or Europe. The comet is now clearly pandering to its new demographic: the population of Earth. Of course, the bandwagon will rush to defend the artistic integrity of 67P (thereby justifying their own shameless frontrunning) by saying "Oh, if the comet were really pandering to mankind, it wouldn't have released its music at a frequency 10,000 times below the limit of human hearing." However, such arguments are barely defensible these days, and, frankly, becoming somewhat tiresome. Mp3s vs CDs, vinyl vs cassettes, Pandora vs Spotify,  within range of the audible spectrum vs 10,000 times lower than the lowest sound detectible by the human ear... isn't the music supposed to matter more than the format in which its released?

Nevertheless, this latest effort from 67P will doubtlessly shape up to be the comet's "Nevermind", its Black Album, its "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness". The comet will surely reach the height of its popularity thanks in part to its producer/sound engineer team of the Rosetta spacecraft and the Philae Science lab, bought and paid for with the deep pockets and fat wallets of the European Space Agency. With these huge tech-dollars now funding its efforts, the comet will get a taste of the sweet, sweet nectar of an audience with the ability to interpret and enjoy sonic vibrations, and once that fame train gets a-rollin', it'll be on the fast track to mediocrity.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

You Are Not A Music Promoter

Today I want to solve a mystery. If you are in a small-time band, you are no doubt familiar with this type of person: someone who will spam your inbox with exciting opportunities to play venues all over the place, call themselves a "promoter" or a "booking agent", and possibly have some sort of fancy company name. I'd been getting bombarded with these for a while, so for a laugh I replied to one and asked what the payment structure was for the bands at one of these venues. Here is the reply that I got in return, broken down piece by piece so that we may examine exactly what each section is saying:

Ok, the first thing we notice here is that this paragraph is completely in troll caps. Note that the author felt the need to yell at me right from the start like I'm some kind of moron who needs to get it though my thick skull that this shit is serious. For Christ's sake, its not like I dissed Ronald Reagan in the comments section of the Fox News website, so how about we take it down a notch? That said, the request isn't really unfair at all. Sure, bands should make a facebook event to promote their shows. After all, why wouldn't you? Its free. There's nothing particularly obnoxious about that . However, stringing together a bunch of poorly worded demands in all caps lock is disrespectful and annoying. Plus, I'm pretty sure bold type is an option in most modern email sites. Moving on.

Load in: Please load in at least 1 hour before you play. There is no sound check - just a line check before your first song. Load in thru the main entrance.
Great. This means your band is guaranteed to sound like shit and nobody at the venue will care or, more likely, be able to do anything about it.  But at least you get to bring all of your shit in through the same door that all the bar regulars are simultaneously leaving through, because lets face it: they're not there to see your band. Or any band. So why does this place even have bands? But that's a question that we'll address later. On to the good stuff.

Payment: Admission is $10 at the door; $8 in advance. Bands are paid $5 a head starting with the 16th person (or $3 a head for anyone who has pre-paid for an $8 ticket), but you must draw at least 25 people to be paid. The door person will ask every attendee the name of the band they are there to see. To offer advance discount tickets to your fans, I need to set up an account for you -- contact me at to do so (at least 2 weeks before the show). I am not paid by the club, nor do I receive a cut of the bar, so it’s imperative that you take promotion seriously and bring people, so that I may cover all costs to the club including sound, security, door person, etc.
The mysteries here abound. Ok, let's try to unravel this payment structure math. So we get $5 per person after the 16th person, but nobody gets paid til the 25th person. So essentially, persons 17-24 are meaningless for our purposes unless persons 25+ show up. So if person 25 happens to break down on the freeway, we essentially forfeit $40 that we are supposedly owed from person 16 onward, making this a largely symbolic offer. But really, that's just the tip of the iceberg of stupidity that is this payment structure. For example, we have the option to set up some sort of account and offer discounted tickets. Great news for the fans! Except for the fact that the discount comes directly out of our share, dropping our cut from $5 to $3. So this begs the question; Why would we bother to set up an account to fuck ourselves in the ass? Why would we ever do a bunch of paperwork so that we can make less money while you make the same amount, whoever you are? In what world would someone agree to a deal like that? That has to be the stupidest...
Which reminds me, who the fuck are you again? What exactly is the job description of the person with whom I'm corresponding? They've just said that they are not paid by the club in any fashion, but are in fact indebted to them to cover a sound person (who does not perform sound checks), and a door person. It is imperative that I promote and bring people, so this person is not a promoter. So, they don't work for the club, and they're not a promoter, and in reality all they've done to this point has been to spam my inbox with bullshit and offer to set up an account whereby I can get cheated out of money. So what does that make them? I'm not sure exactly, but the phrase "con-artist" comes to mind...

Guestlist/Reduced Admission: We are unable to offer this due to our costs so yes your girlfriends/husbands/mothers must all pay the full cover.
God, really? My girlfriend/husband/mother can't get on a guest list because of your costs?  I've played a looot of hole-in-the-wall dives, and all of them that even remotely take themselves seriously as a music venue offer a guest list, even if it just comes out of the band's cut at the end of the night. I'm not asking for miracles here. My band is going to spend everything we make at the bar and then some, so just let my god damn girlfriend slide on the $10 because she fucking carried half of the equipment. Oh, but wait, you don't get paid by the venue, so the fact that a bunch of wild rockers are neck-deep in $3 PBRs means absolutely nothing to you. In fact, so far there's been so much pressure for me to cover your costs that I'm starting to wonder exactly is my motivation for playing this club instead of throwing a kegger in my basement, where I'll make my own guest list and put my mother on it, thanks.
Where's the beer pong, pussies??

PROMOTING THE SHOW: The audience at these shows is based solely on the draw of each band so please post this gig on your myspace page, facebook, etc. Neither the club nor I can bring a crowd to you - you must be able to draw people on your own. If you cannot, please don't play the show. The better you draw, the better the night/venue/time slot I can offer you in the future.

Finally, we end with a paragraph full of lies. "Neither the club nor I can bring a crowd to you." Well that's a bunch of bullshit. The club could, in fact, bring a crowd if they had hired a promoter instead of letting you work pro-bono to do whatever the fuck it is that you're doing, and you could maybe bring a crowd if you were, in fact, a promoter, or, to a lesser extent, put half as much effort into promoting as you did into sternly reiterating the fact that YOU ARE NOT A PROMOTER. I mean, you could at least have put up a facebook event page in that span of time. And furthermore, "The better you draw, the better the night/venue/time slot I can offer you in the future." Well, since you've so forcefully stated that you will absolutely not in any way advertise the show you're attempting to book, what the fuck does it matter what night or venue you put us in, since there is 0.0000% chance of anyone being there besides maybe a bartender and the people I personally brought? Is this supposed to be some kind of motivator? "Hey, if you can bring out 25 people to this empty shithole on a Tuesday at midnight, I'll let you bring the same 25 people to a different shithole on a Thursday at 11:30." Wow, what a deal! Am I fucking rich yet?

So what I want to know is, who exactly benefits from this business model? Obviously the bands lose out because they're getting such a bad shake. You're potentially facing a situation where you could bring out, on a weeknight, 24 of your favorite girlfriend/husband/mothers to a dive bar that they (or anyone else) would never otherwise go to, have them all pay a ridiculous $10 cover charge with NO EXCEPTIONS while they overpay for drinks all night at the bar, and you walk away with literally nothing except the equipment you had to haul and a parking ticket from the PPA. There is absolutely no scenario in which doing this is in any way more advantageous than playing in your own backyard.

But furthermore, how is this a win for the "promoter"? They have obviously agreed to work for these clubs at a risk to themselves, because they are responsible for paying the sound and door people (if their emails are to be believed). Therefore, they send these pseudo-abusive emails in which they feel they need to badger and pressure bands into selling the show before they even know if they've booked a local rock legend or a sadomasichist scat-hip-hop DJ with a Casio keyboard who cuts himself on stage. How is this a formula for success? They shove down your throat that you are responsible for covering all of their costs, and yet they are offering you nothing but an empty room far away from your house that you will lose money getting to. That is, unless you can bring 25+ people on any given weeknight in the middle of the night at the drop of a hat. And let's face it, if that's the case, you can find a better deal pretty much anywhere. So what band that is even marginally successful at drawing a crowd would ever be motivated to work with you? Probably none, so these promoters will be forever scraping the bottom of the barrel, yelling at inexperienced bands with no following to make facebook pages for their shows and bitching about all their costs.

Well you know what? Fuck your costs. When I agree to promote a show for you and draw a certain number of people, do I demand that you cover my costs? Guess what, my bass rig cost $750. That was a personal expense that I needed in order for my band to exist and bring people to the shitty bar that you don't actually work for. That was a financial risk that I took in order to be able to do my job, which, by the way, is not to be a promoter, but to rock. See how ridiculous it sounds when you spin it around like that? And we're all supposed to sit here and sweat the fact that you might take a loss when you a) neither have nor will have done any real work in putting the show together besides the arduous task of spamming pre-scripted emails, b) are offering nothing of any real value except the vague promise of a "better night/venue/timeslot" which, if it actually exists, will undoubtedly enforce the same set of draconian rules you're imposing on the shitty night/venue/timeslots, and c) knowingly took on the risk when you chose to do this. Just because you're able to shaft most bands out of their entire fanbase's admission costs doesn't mean that none of us understand how money works and that, if given the choice, you'd rather not lose it. We fuckin get it. Things are tough all over.

But finally, how is this situation a win for the club? Sure, on the one hand, instead of hiring someone to book and promote talent, they have a person whom they don't have to pay (or even really speak to) to try to get people into the door on those pesky weeknights when most people aren't trying to get sloshed. But as with everything else, you get what you pay for. Wouldn't it be better for business to take a little bit of a hit and hire someone who knows what they're doing? Wouldn't it be better to have one great show every week that can be properly advertised than five shitty shows where six people show up to each wishing that their car had caught fire on the way there because the sound sucks and everyone is pissed off and miserable?

Additionally, if you can't offer a sound check, a guest list, or even a back door through which to move equipment, maybe having live music isn't really your thing. It's ok! Not everyone should do it. Maybe you could stick to DJs, or pool tables, or having hot bartenders, or a really cool jukebox. Or, fuck, maybe have good food and drink specials, or whatever the hell bars used to do to get business before all of these con-artist fake promoters showed up trying to turn every last hole in the wall into CBGB's. If you're going to do something, do it right. And remember, its OK to say no.

Or, I don't know, have some other kind of gimmick...

Now, allow me to address some of your predictable retorts.

Hey asshole! I'm one of these promoter type people you're talking about! Bands are all like 'pay me money' and shit, but they usually suck and can't even bring out 5 people to a show! How is it my fault these people don't get paid? If they suck and can't bring anyone out, there's no money to pay! Why don't they understand that? Why do they even want to play a show to nobody?

Well, you're right. Most local bands do suck and can't bring 5 people to a show. Why do they want to play a show? The same reason you want to be a promoter. Everyone wants to be in the scene and nobody can ever come to terms with the fact that they just might not be good at certain things. So, what do you, as the sham promoter, do to filter out bands like this? You ask them what their draw is via email, to which they can tell you literally anything you want to hear in order to get the show. "You need us to bring 40 people on a Wednesday? If I say no we can't play, but if I say yes we get the show? No problem!" One could argue that a better method might be to actually fucking listen to some of the bands you book in order to gain firsthand knowledge of whether or not they suck. Or for that matter, whether or not they've bothered to record a demo. If they can't even dropbox you some rough MP3's, they probably can't self-promote a show very well.

Additionally, at least half of the time, you have the first band to sign on to the show find other bands to fill out the bill! This is absurd on so many levels. Firstly, now, beyond just not being a promoter, you're not even doing the booking! You are literally trying to get money for nothing. "You want a show? Well BOOK IT YOURSELF! I'll be there to take the money." You're one step above spray painting a water-gun and robbing people in the subway station. Have me book the show? Fuck you! Who are you, my life coach? To whom I have to pay an exorbitant fee to get "pointed in the right direction"? I don't think so, pal. You emailed me about a show, not the other way around.

Secondly, even a sham promoter should know at least three to four bands of a similar genre that would make sense on a show together. If all you do is sit around sending emails all day on your breaks from managing a PacSun, maybe you could, I don't know, email some bands yourself. Its good to know bands, since, you know, you're trying to book live music.

And because finally, if you pawn off the last remaining duty of the job you claim to be doing onto your clients, who do you think they're going to fill the show with? Their friends, dipshit. Most likely, a band with limited connections isn't going to be able to reach too far outside of their social circle to find acts that want to play with them. That's where, ideally, you would come in to use your experience to put together an event. But, since every band now on the show probably knows each other from high school, you're looking at a very limited pool of potential fans. That decreases the odds of you covering the costs that you somehow managed to accrue while doing nothing, and makes it even less likely that anyone else will get paid.

At this point you're probably thinking "But I can't afford to be picky! I have to book 30 bands a week just to make any money at all!" Well, that's that whole problem of you not actually being a promoter again. Even if you had had those urges to begin with, its obviously impossible to properly promote a show when you have one 6 out of 7 nights a week. Since doing so would be an unrealistic workload for what is doubtlessly a 2nd (at best) job for you, you leave it up to the bands, most of whom are shitty, to do themselves. You're getting exactly what you paid for, just like the bar that hired you.

Wow, for a guy who's supposed to be passionate about music, sure seems like you're obsessed with getting paid. If you're doing something you love, do we really have to hear about how you can't make all this money because of evil promoters?

Well, first of all, I can assure you that any musician around 30 years old who works full time, has commitments, bills, possibly a mortgage or a family, etc, isn't in this for the money, myself included. But there's a big difference between not being greedy and not wanting to be ripped off. The worst thing about these kind of promoters is that they appear legitimate. Now, there are actually dishonest-to-goodness hornswagglers out there who take money from bands for services and then disappear, never to be heard from again. (One day I will burn you alive, "Michael" "from" "Oceanus Tours"). I almost prefer their type though, because at least after they get you they're gone, and they don't have the audacity to pretend they are a legitimate service. These other guys are just some unnecessary middlemen who, for some reason (greed), think they are doing something worthy of payment. I'm all about fairness. If we can produce money for the venue, we deserve a fair cut, not $15 for gas money after our crowd spent $500 binge drinking at the bar after paying a cover charge. Conversely, if you did your job in putting a decent show together, you are also entitled to a fair cut. However, if you emailed me about a show, but I found the bands, I made a Facebook event, I spent money to make fliers and posters,  I made phone calls to get people in the door, and then I played the fucking show, how the fuck are you entitled to any of the profits? You didn't fucking do anything, asshole!

In conclusion, I actually think that the dive bars are still the winners. Look at it from their perspective: get someone to tell five bands they can play a show on a Tuesday night, and bam, 25 people in your bar on a Tuesday night. Who cares if nobody wants to hear their music? People who are serious about their bands, we all need to wise up. You don't need these people. For one, learn which promoters are the real deal. A good indicator is if you can actually talk to them like a person, not just a mystery address on the other end of a pre-scripted email chain. The real ones are busy, and may not respond to you right away. That's not a deal killer. But are they reasonable? Asking that you be able to draw 20 people to a given show or sell tickets is not bad business. Drafting an overly complex payment scheme that makes no sense probably is.

Another option is to not deal with promoters at all. Find a bar or a hall and book it yourself. If you're going to find bands and promote everything anyway, you might as well deal directly with the venue and work out whatever cut sounds good to you. Cut out the fucking middlemen.

And finally, spread this rant around. If you've gotten this far into the post, either you think my prose styling is the stuff of legend, or this hits close to home for you. I'm sick of these flakes, and I'm sick of their bum deals. Send this to the next fake promoter who screws you over. Send it to all your friends in bands.

Let them know that they have no place in the "doing this purely for love of the game" music circuit.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Revenge" of the "Nerds"

Good news everyone! Rejoice, for a time of redemption is at hand. Yes, all of you brethren who were unfortunate enough to develop a leaning toward subculture-oriented media in your days of public schooling, otherwise dubbed by your seemingly indefatigable physical superiors as nerds, geeks, dorks, freaks, queers, mouth-breathers, losers, pantywaists, wusses, pussies, pansys, faggots, quags, maynards, fergusons, Van Houtens, dinkleys, spanglers, and bitches, our time is at hand. Finally, in our post racial society, we have also fostered a culture of acceptance that has made such leaps and bounds since the time that having a copy of the novelization of Return of the Jedi was something to keep hidden from the public at all costs. No longer is there a gaping social chasm between Joe Mainstreet Football-Fan and Quincey "New-In-Box" First Edition Action Figure Collector/Elvira Enthusiast.

Proof, you say? Well, if the mainstream blockbuster success of such phenomena as The Big Bang Theory and Comic Book Men left any doubt in your mind that the sun has risen on a new age of enlightenment, look no further than this (which I came across in my Facebook feed):

not because I Googled "Hottest Nerd Girl". I swear. 

Finally... finally, people are beginning to respect those with differing opinions about what's "cool" or "attractive". How else could a contest like this come about? At long last, a cultural mecca like Philadelphia is willing to fly in the face of conventions and sponsor a beauty contest in which the individuality and uniqueness of the contestants challenges our preconcieved notions of the status quo. I mean, take "Angel" here: 

Instantly you'll note the trappings of a once-trampled underclass: the bulky, sadly broken, thick lensed glasses (doubtlessly a hold-over from parents who either couldn't afford or refused to acknowledge the need for a more stylish model), the suspenders (probably a result of the same), and the Catholic school uniform, whose solemn conformity was probably one of few similarities she shared with fellow private school students who surely looked down upon her because of her choice of books, movies, and music. 

But if you look beyond these things, you'll see subtler, more painful hints in the eyes of these nerd girls. Beyond those horned-rims, there's a sad look that says, "Yes, I understand, for I too had my Millennium Falcon broken by bullies outside of the hobby shop ten minutes after I bought it. I too was the only middle-schooler who still wore a ridiculous bicycle helmet, and I too spent the bulk of my weekends watching Star Trek with my parents while my peers were at the mall learning how to french kiss and smoke cigarettes."

Yes, the wurm has turned, as it always does. The word "nerd", once used as a derisive expletive by those who hated and wanted to kill you, can now be used as a badge of pride and honor by those who truly underwent a social trial-by-fire. But what is the prime mover for this long overdue phenomenon? What could possibly have evened the social scales and given these nerd girls the chance to flaunt their uniqueness, free of the undue criticisms of the past? The answer is so simple, we should have realized it long ago:

All they had to do was already be stripper-hot and take all of their clothes off for radio DJ's.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Shit Like This Is Why I Don't Have The Patience To Be A Real Writer

So, this one time I submitted an idea for a piece on the new writer's section of the message boards. It was basically me bitching about zombie fanboys again, with the idea that I would do a list of apocalypse scenarios made famous by movies that would be scientifically way more likely to happen than a stupid zombie outbreak, backed up by whatever facts I could find with a ten minute Google search. One of the editors responded, and told me that my idea just looked like a list of apocalypse movies, and that here at they don't do articles that read like "here's 10 great cowboy movies, etc, etc".

 So today's top articles on cracked are:

  • 6 Deleted Backstories That Totally Change Classic Movies
  • 10 Brilliant Comedy Gems Hiding on YouTube
  • 3 Past Box Office Hits That Prove January Movies Suck
  • An Urgent Message to Guys Who Comment on Internet Videos
  • If 'Django' Was 10 Times Shorter and 100 Times More Honest, and
  • The 5 Most Badass Things Ever Done in the Name of Research
Now, I'm no mathematician, but out of today's top articles, 50% are just lists of movies/internet videos that fulfill certain criteria and 33% are commentaries on said movies/internet videos (one of which is a tounge-in-cheek synopsis of an already tounge-in-cheek Tarantino script), leaving only 17% (1) of today's top articles to tackle any subject that isn't about movies or internet videos.

So maybe I was aiming too high. Maybe instead of doing a list of apocalypse movies, I should have proposed a list of apocalypse movie YouTube mashups that would sync well with the Nyan Cat song. Because, you know, the only thing more interesting than watching YouTube mashups is reading serious critical commentary on YouTube mashups.

More Than Just Lists Of Movies... Sometimes.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Movie Review

Its gotten too serious up in here lately, so please enjoy this lighthearted movie review.

I saw The Hobbit. Before I give my opinion, let me put my level of Tolkien fandom in perspective for the casual reader. I loved the Lord of the Rings movies, and I have only recently begun reading the actual books. I've finished Fellowship and Two Towers. So just so we're all on the same page, I don't have maps of Middle Earth on my wall and I don't speak Elvish. I also haven't actually read The Hobbit, Return of the King, or The Simillarion yet.

That said, I thought the movie was great! It was a little long in getting started, and there were some obligatory franchise shout-outs (for example, the scene where Elijah Wood suits back up as Frodo just to get the mail and eat an apple), but overall, I thought it was fantastic.

However, liking stuff is boring, so there are two small things about The Hobbit that I hated and am fully prepared to go on a rant about. These in no way impact my overall liking of the movie, but they are very stupid and must be addressed.

First Stupid Thing:

So in one part of the movie, Bilbo and the dwarves are crossing this rainy mountain pass (in a scene that looks identical to one in Fellowship except that the rain was snow). Some rocks start falling down on them, and one of them shouts "The legends are true! Rock Giants!"

And then, holy fucking shit, 75 foot tall monsters made of solid rock are beating the tar out of each other. And I don't mean just crashing into each other like you might expect senseless stone people to do. These guys are throwing jabs and hooks and executing sick bare-knuckle boxing combinations like they just graduated a 12 week fight camp with Manny Paquiano. So needless to say the Dwarves are scared shitless, but manage to barely escape this brutal fracas and get inside the mountain. 

And nobody ever mentions it again.  

In fact, they all just fucking go to sleep. Now, since I haven't read the original book, I don't know if this is explained somewhere, so maybe somebody can help me out. As far as movie making goes, its pretty random. There's no set up whatsoever. One minute, Dwarves are walking across a mountain, and the next minute, what could not possibly be any less than the most fucking powerful creatures in Tolkien's universe are having a title bout across an entire mountain range. Then, thanks to the comfort of a cave within a dwarf's walk of this catastrophic scenario, the danger is suddenly over without so much as anyone saying "Wow. So, how about that rock monster battle? Crazy, am I right?"  

Let's think about this. These things are as tall as mountains, throw boulders the size of Isengard, have the combat dexterity of a young Joe Frasier, and Gandalf and co. are worried about a dragon? Are you kidding me? Forget about this dragon nonsense! We need to deal with these living mountains who are God-like in power and clearly aggressive. Radagast saw a "necromancer" in the old tower? Fuck that shit! What if the rock-man royal rumble spills over into the streets of Minas Tirith? Smashed. In fact, what the hell couldn't three rock monsters who had a bad morning utterly destroy? White city of Gondor? Smash. Rivendell? Smash. Eye of Sauron? Throw a mesa at it. Fangorn forest? Lay down and roll. Sure, the Ents seemed pretty powerful before we learned they are completely outclassed on the next range over. 

Call me crazy, but I feel this situation needs to either be dealt with, or at the very least, explained. Like maybe two fuckin seconds of screen time when Gandalf comes back to save them from the goblins. 

"Yo Gandalf, that goblin shit was scary, but you should have seen this other shit we saw right before that. You would not believe it."

"Oh, you must be referring to the rock monster mash. They always do that, but for a million centuries of man they always stop by six o'clock and never leave the mountain range."

"Oh, ok. Good."

See? Problem solved. But failing that, I feel that it should make parties of both good and evil in Middle Earth somewhat uncomfortable that this kind of thing is going on. Yes, the one ring can corrupt the minds of men, but, you know... smashed. 

Second Stupid Thing:

All subterranean creatures are racially incapable of building railings.   

I would seriously like for someone to do a body count of how many deaths there are in these movies due to lack of railings. I don't remember anything in the books about the dwarves specifically leaving railings off of clearly precipitous bridges and walkways despite the fact that a strong sneeze could send someone tumbling down 4,000 feet into a river of magma, so I'm forced to assume this was an executive decision on the part of Peter Jackson. 

There's a scene in The Hobbit where they're fighting off a million goblins in Goblin Town, and the lack of railings, handholds, and crossbars is so apparent that they simply use the strategy of "just knock them off", to which the goblins were clearly unprepared despite the fact that they fucking live like this. The dwarves are no better. The glory of Erebor? No Railings. The Mines of Moria? Built with no railings. Conquered by orcs, who continue this tradition to their own peril, as we see in Fellowship. Its safe to assume that Orcs, Goblins, and Dwarves never achieved dominance on Middle Earth not because of lack of fighting capability, but because their populations were surely decimated by the gruesome results of dizzy spells, banana peel accidents, and drunken stumbling off of precarious walkways with no railings! 

And you know what? That's why the king is a human. Helm's deep? You have to fucking try to fall out of that thing. There's like a parapet every two feet. The elves are a little better than the dwarves as well, but there still some places where one wrong step means your ass is down a waterfall, like in front of Elrond's magical moon-rune E-reader. Overall, given the glory and/or complexity of these underground dwellings, it would seem like a wise investment in public works to even string some rope handholds across the most dangerous parts of your lair. The Goblin King clearly had time and resources to build a wacky cage trap and some kind of torture machine, so it follows that it wouldn't be too much to ask for a safety net here or there. Just sayin. 

Anyway, the movie was good.