Archive for March, 2009
Officially the most depressing song on the face of the planet in history. When we got done with the mix on this one, Eric wanted a CD copy. He was going to buy a CD player and a really nice set of headphones, put this in the player, and put the package on the chick’s doorstep. I said no. No, sir, no. We gotta look out for each other!
I write and write in this blog for a couple of days and then I get burnt out on it. Especially if I have any kind of shift of conciousness that makes me step away from thinking about this stuff. I had one of those in a conversation with Jenny (my girlfriend) wherein she suggested that perhaps moving forward I should do something like being a personal trainer. Don’t know if I’ll do exactly that, but the thought gave me such relief that I no longer cared about railing on about music industry stuff.
Anyway that spurting inspiration (*snicker*) is another big thing when you’re trying to run a business in art. Good business is based on steady, predictable production, not spurting inspiration. One thing you can do is, if you’re prolific enough during your inspired times, you can create a backlog of work that you can slowly release over time in the business side of things. You just have to make sure what you’re doing will stay relevant. Stuff that’s really really current might become worthless quickly.
That’s another reason why performing live is crucial. Recordings and new songs come in spurts, but you can be on stage steadily every day in a more consistent manner than you can write new songs in a consistent manner (bullshit if you’re reading this and saying you can write a song every day from here on out, BULLSHIT - you WILL have down time and you BETTER be prepared). The key though is you can’t be all persnickidy about fresh material on stage, you have to be willing to play something a million times. Have the freshness be in each different experience, each day being different than the last, but also the satisfaction being in the wisdom of knowing that we are ever repeating, life is ever repeating, and that, if you think about it, that’s all of our goals, rather than this neo-christian-british-glory notion of “getting somewhere” we actually just hope to carry on. Endlessly repeating and repeating. If you can keep that in mind, keep in your heart a feeling of just BEING, this just IS what you are and you’re not going anywhere, you’re just living life, then you can keep performing and performing and performing.
But the problem is, when was that the attitude? Maybe if you’re David Bowie, you’re thinking you’re just maintaining and living. But if you’re an indie, you’re trying to get to being David Bowie. That constant mission and trying to become something you are currently not is ironically the biggest killer in getting somewhere because being consistent is the key to growing a business, including a musical one. You have to consistently show up for a fan base that slowly but surely grows and grows and grows.
Somebody like me tends to periodically, consistently, find the inconsistent and break down completely and reinvent. Somebody like Eric too. First being dominguez, then being semper Thou, then being Hericlitus. This is partly about being poisoned by the neo-christian-british-manifest-destiny-glory-trip but it’s also partly about being on a path of growth and creation, which means constant change. The irony is that some of the most creative and vibrant artists are that because of this nature of constant upheaval and change, and thus they’re the ones that never get anywhere.
So maybe it’s not entirely the fucked upness of the industry, but the nature of the beast itself. I’m sure there are plenty that would say that’s fine, because the point of the art is not to make money or be famous.
So all that may be why so much of what you hear that becomes “popular” is so boring and lifeless. And why there are so many things that a LOT of people know about, but most of those people don’t actually like it, and the whole boring perpetuation comes. Of course there are examples of people that break down and reinvent and make that be their strength. Madonna comes to mind. That woman reinvents her “image” every time she does an album.
But there are obviously some very crucial keys that DO NOT CHANGE with Madonna. That foundation allows her to change what doesn’t matter - her hair, her clothes. These are not the things that people latch on to. Her name, for example, cannot change. She, like any of us, would be dealt a great setback were she to decide the name needed to change. In fact that’s the number one thing, even more than the style of music. But her music, although changing much, adheres to a few basic principles, staying within a certain genre/category. She also changes ALONG WITH that genre, rather than counter to it, so she actually maintains a much more consistent connection than if her music were to remain actually static. She follows the trends, as it were.
Whether or not in her personal life she reinvents to any large degree I wouldn’t know. But you can tell that it’s happened some. Her lyrics went from bubble gum Cyndi Lauper style (that definition was vaguely recursive wasn’t it?) to sexual sex shock style to all this Om shanti shanti stuff but the progression was natural and again, she left it within the bounds of the genre. Another thing to note is, she may have reinvented her personal self to some degree, but not to the intense degree I seem to be, for example. IE: she may have changed, but she didn’t ever stop making music or think “hmm I think I’ll retire and become a personal trainer” - well maybe she thought that, but it didn’t happen.
Of course comparing her path to mine is a ridiculous thing to do, because she started out on major labels. Even if she had had times of complete seperation from it, the business of selling her music and her image was never going to stop. We would have kept seeing the imagery even if the actual Madonna human had disappeared entirely.
Hmmm. Maybe that’s the whole reason to not run the label your music is on. Maybe MOST artists disappear like I tend to. But their label carries on. The public never knows. Lest we forget, what you see on the TV is a ghost, a spook, an illusion of light and sound, it is LITERALLY only just the surface, and not the person.
This is a cover song. Dido. I forget if we made this one or another one sound so close to the original that maybe it was stupid but then again I don’t even care about that. I like doing that and I like making a cover that’s totally off. Like we had an acoustic guitar plus two vocalists “around the campfire” version of Killing In The Name Of by Rage Against The Machine.
Oh man I don’t even know what to say right now. Have I said everything I have to say? I’m sure I’ve said before what a nightmare it can be to put a cover on your record. There are two on this record. I bet I’ve also talked about sampling before.
Technically, cover songs are allowed. You can do a cover song and you don’t have to ask permission. You do have to pay though. And if the song is managed by the Harry Fox Agency (they all are, really) then they want you to pay a lot up front. But if you want to sample something, you have to have all kinds of written permission and probably you’ll have to pay. It’s not inconceivable that someone could give you permission to sample something and not make you pay.
I paid 50 dollars to a bunch of Tibetan monks to let me use samples of their chanting CD.
It didn’t used to be that way with all samples. If you sampled a bit of a song, then that would be problematic. But if you wanted to sample a movie line, which I did a LOT of, all you had to do was give it credit in the liner notes. Nobody cared. I guess technically the rules were still the same, but nobody was getting in trouble. I did three records with hella samples in there. Various movie lines and other vocal snippets, never any music samples.
The first record, Martyrs And Heroes, that was fine, I gave credits, it printed, boom. For the next record, Artistic Apocalypse, I had to change printing companies to press it because the previous one had turned out to be overly Christian and wouldn’t print certain stuff. So I turned to Discmakers and they printed Artistic Apocalypse fine. All kinds of movie samples and stuff in there, all credited. Then things started changing. Napster was a real milestone but they weren’t the beginning of all this upheaval surrounding intellectual rights and the new digital media and stuff (mp3s and the like).
In fact the way I remember it, it didn’t even start with the “new media” (that’d be the mp3s copied all around on the interwebs) at all. In fact it was ALWAYS easy to copy music. We’d put records onto cassettes. Then we’d copy cassettes onto cassettes. Then we’d copy CD’s onto cassettes. In fact it only got even remotely difficult to pirate music when people starting caring whether something was a second generation dub or not. Long ago nobody thought about that. Now we try to get an actual COPY as opposed to a dub. What isn’t talked about is that for all this copy protection and shit, you can still just as easily dub something and make a copy. There are 1000 ways to do that now, too.
Anyway there was great upheaval before all that started being talked about. Honestly I have no idea why, but people just started getting in trouble all over the place. Around that same time, sampling became sort of frowned upon in some circles of fans. Like you’d find out such and such bassline was actually a sample from another song and you’d be crestfallen and then you’d hear all these nasty rumors circulating about how “oh fuck that song he stole that bassline! that’s a sample!” — “WHAT?? no WAY! REALLY? asshole!”
I remember that being said about Vanilla Ice’s big hit Ice Ice Baby. Maybe something had happened there where they didn’t get the proper permission to use that bassline, but I doubt it. Companies are pretty thorough and that was a well known line. It’s not like it was a secret.
To me that whole thing of getting disappointed in artists who sampled was just white kids coming into rap not understanding what it was. Rap/hip hop is totally about sampling. That’s half the culture. And it’s not a bad thing. Nowadays sampling is happening just as much, and it’s about paying homage to classic songs and also picking up on known themes as a means of building on that art to find new art. And it’s promotional. And it’s nostalgic. All of it at once.
But sampling ORIGINALLY was born of necessity. The first hip-hop stuff was not sampled, it was bands with whole horn sections and the like. But in the world of hip-hop, the liklihood that a kid with talent for rapping who’s killing it at cyphers and break dance circles having a BAND or being trained in an instrument is just very low. It’s a matter of money. As it turns out I was a hip-hop artist for the same reason. What money did I have for band equipment? Who did I know that could play? And for me, it was also a matter of not necessarily wanting to work with other people. Ironic, because I keep saying how it’s ALL about other people, but for a lot of us, it starts out very personal and even secret.
SO, all that having been said, if you don’t have a guitar and a horn section and you never learned to play anything, but you want to rap over some kind of music or beat - guess what? - you PROBABLY have a record player. So along comes Grandmaster Flash and he’s got TWO! He gets two copies of the same record and manages, through AMAZING SKILL (but you don’t need to do it like him, especially if you’re just recording) and you loop that beat over and over from the beginning of Walk This Way or something, and bam there you go.
From there you get creative. Maybe you let the bassline come in or you find another groove with no words, you invent scratching, or whatever. And just as prevalent as records are cassettes at this time, and dual well cassette players are in wide use, and a whole other subset of hip-hop artists like me create a whole other way of doing this called Pause Loop Beats. Capitalized that for emphasis. Pause looping is easy in concept, but like DJ’ing, VERY tricky to master. But with patience, possible, no matter how poor you are (other than having dual well cassette decks!). You just record a section of a beat to another tape and stop it when it’s past where you want. Then you play back that new tape and pause it RIGHT EXACTLY IN THE RIGHT SPOT at the end of the phrase and record engage. Then pause the original tape RIGHT EXACTLY IN THE RIGHT SPOT at the beginning of the phrase, then record-play exactly together and create another loop and then keep on doing that!
I made 100’s of these. I’d do a whole 3 minute drum track then get a third tape and put stuff on top, then I learned to overdub, etc. That started my recording career, but there were literally 100’s of songs I did before I ever wrote a note of music. It was a long time, actually, before I discovered cheap enough gear that I could make “original” music to back my stupid macho 14 year old raps.
So THAT’S where sampling of music comes from. Nobody ever thought of it as stealing, and the whole notion that you’ve revealed some naughty secret when you say someone sampled something is stupid because it was never a secret, in fact you LOOK for recognizable beats or basslines or what not, because rather than being something you’re trying to pawn off as your own, sampling is about adding your verse, your contribution, to a known song. It’s ABOUT it being recognized as a sample. The reason white guys in Minnesota don’t get that, honestly, is because they don’t recognize the old songs because they were busy listening to Pink Floyd or classical music or whatever. Basically it’s due to the long history of segregation and dual cultures laying on top of each other in this country, where there’s a whole long African American tradition that most white people have no idea is even there.
So when you hear that little bassline in Dr. Dre’s tune that sounds original to you and find out later it was a sample and think “damn”, it doesn’t sound that way to Dr. Dre and his family and all the guys in Watts listening to it. They immedietly hear Tighten Up or whatever it is and say “OH YEAH!” and then it takes a new direction and it’s like a nostalgic reinvention of a song and it’s loveable and danecable, original and recognizable at once. It maybe partly came from simple resources reality, but maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was genius to begin with. Maybe Grandmaster Flash makes a choice to get those turn tables instead of a guitar. Hell even Ray Charles was taking known gospel tunes and writing new more racy lyrics for them!
…But… I was talking about the upheaval. Third record I did, Frosted Mini Wheats, had a bunch of snippets, from movies, video games, even a cassette tape of a stage performance of The Crucible. All credited, etc. Sent the record to discmakers and they called and said they wouldn’t print it! Sent me a form, which is now a standard part of their package when you send them a record, where I was supposed to get written permission from every sample. Hell one of them was Bobby Kennedy taken off of a Michael Jackson record. Where do I get that permission? There was no way. So I shelved the record mostly. Printed a few copies myself with stick on labels that melted or bubbled up or caused the CDs to spin wrong in players. Ugh. S’ok, it was probably better not to end up with 1000 copies of that record. I still have 700 of Cult Of Nice and that’s a FAR FAR FAR better piece of work.
So from then on out, and I KNOW I’ve mentioned this before, the rules and regulations and forms and suing and people freaking out and everybody being so “mine mine mine” about their “intellectual property” has totally changed the way *I* make art, and the creative decisions I make - and many others like me. I think it’s crazy but I can also feel for people. I mean you spend your whole life doing this stuff, and all you want is enough money to fuckin buy a sandwich, and suddenly you hear something you created out there in the world, making somebody else enough money to buy a sandwich and a coffee? Come on at least share the turkey a little.
Of course, there’s nobody in my realm that wouldn’t share the wealth if any ever came. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m really thorough and careful about making sure I have it set up to share the proper wealth with contributers to my records. But I owe each of them about 4 cents each, so *shrug*.
Speaking of 700 copies sitting in the garage. Here’s something I just said in an instant message to a buddy:
“It feels like sitting on a huge pot of gold - 10 years after the world decided gold was just rocks.”
Man I love this one. But it’s actually a little intense to listen to too much. It’s very intense, emotionally and all.
Man though. It has these mandolins. This kid Eric just had all kinds of instruments in his little apartment and he could play ‘em all and he would bring ‘em over and go in the booth/Old Man Clothes Room and play ‘em and play ‘em. What a talented cat, srsly.
This one I really could hear it’s single quality, especially in the chorus. So much so that I couldn’t stand not to sing back up on it. But it’s definitely arranged wrong for a single. It’s creative in the way it’s arranged, but the arrangement isn’t single material. I mean you don’t hear that catchy chorus until way way in. It’s written more like a poem, but it has catchy melodies. I guess if we were really serious about making it a hit single, we’d arrange it differently or do two versions or something. That’s the difference between a small indie label and a major. On a major you’re just forced to be concerned about these things, whereas with a small indie, you don’t care.
People talk about that creative freedom and they talk about wanting it but I’m not sure how many people really would trade having millions of people listen to something for that creative freedom. I also think we probably are over-angry about lack of creative freedom at the level of the majors. I mean the fact is, for something to move the MASSES, a certain formula has to be applied (usually - there are definitely exceptions), and THAT limits your “freedom”, not an evil uncreative executive. Of course I temper THAT by saying that sometimes execs are OVERLY paranoid about formulas and sometimes we indies feel like they have so much power that anything they decided to force on the masses would reach at least a modest level of popularity, and why can’t they use that power to expand the minds of millions?
I don’t know. I know that I’ve always been an indie, and when you don’t give a shit about anything because you know nobody’s listening, then you pretty much do anything, and that’s fun I guess, but I improved and grew so much more when I started doing slam poetry because I was forced to really think about what was going to work for the people out in audience. I did a lot of experimenting and a lot of things didn’t last. That REALLY quickly developed my art as a performance poet, whereas as a recordist I didn’t develope as fast or as well, because I had no feedback.
The other thing is one of the major new themes of this blog, and that’s about being self centered versus concerned with other people. When you do something for other people it really holds a lot more power than when you just do it for yourself, whether or not you’re a Buddhist. And I might have already mentioned that in this blog. That yes there’s a sick sick fame/glory/money thing that happens, but originally, it’s about doing something bigger than yourself, and that’s not sick at all.
Oh well. La La La. Drink! ANNDNDDDD DRRIIIIIINNNNNKKKKK!!!