One of the strangest things about watching lefty hippie types getting all fired up about wealth inequality is that I never see them even acknowledge how much worse everything is in the arts, which a lot of them are directly involved with. Don’t want to bite the hand that feeds (or pretends like it might feed you one day). Let’s face it, you’re not a real artist until rich people say you are and sadly, it’s probably better now than it used to be say, fifty years ago. Doesn’t matter what art form you’re involved with, it’s all fairly impossible to make ends meet unless you’re either born or fuck your way into the privilege factory. Having a trust fund helps. And that’s the sad thing no one’s saying about this stuff, the worse income disparity gets in society as a whole, the even more psychotically worse it gets in the arts. It doesn’t hurt when people as high ranking as Republican presidential candidates openly talk about cutting all arts funding. I’ve actually seen tons of articles where people try and say things like, it’s just so much harder to make a living as a musician these days. Errrr, yeah, our generation invented the term “starving artist”, totally.
I suppose it was my growing up in a fairly non-arts centric family that I have to thank for my realistic perspective on these matters. As my late grandma Vera used to often tell me in my youth: “Einstein worked at the Post Office.” I know there’s been a shit ton of articles written on the sorry state of the evil music industry in the last decade. I know, because I have a ton of musician friends and I constantly see the facebook (friend me for magick updates) piss and vinegar. Judging from that, I’d say people’s approval of what the dominant players in the music business have been churning out is probably somewhat lower than that of Congress at the moment i.e. worse than the approval rating for head lice and brussel sprouts. Oh, and it’s always someone else’s fault. But in the midst of all these impassioned debates, there’s always totally obvious “elephant in the room” type shit that no one seems to address, so that’s the entire point to this piece if you couldn’t glean that from the title: stuff I never hear anyone say about the music business in no particular order.
Less Than 1 Percent of Original Bands Make a Living Playing Music
Next time you read a stupid think piece about how illegal downloading is killing the music industry, keep that in mind. What is it killing exactly? If you’re one of those lucky 1 percent of bands that manages to land that hyper-coveted major label or major indie contract, congratulations. You now have a roughly 10% chance of making some real money. That’s right, the top 10% of the label’s artists typically pay for everything else the label does. The rest are usually perpetually in the red and most of the time end up owing their corporate masters a bunch of dough when all’s said and done. That’s the way it’s always been. You know what article you never see? Small, completely unknown band uses digital technology to get their music out to way more critics and fans than he thought possible in places that would have been completely inaccessible five years ago. That’s been my experience. Just got an amazing review from Italy. You know how much it cost me to send a download link to Italy? Yeah, nothing. Digital technology helps the little guy and hurts the big guy. You know why you never hear anyone saying this? The big guys control the music press. Which brings me to my next point.
There Is No Such Thing as Music Journalism
Get the term “music journalist” out of your head right now. It’s not a real thing. Journalism implies some kind of attempt at presenting facts without interpreting those facts. That’s the idea at least, and that’s not remotely what you’re doing as a music writer. You’re pretty much doing marketing. I’ve been doing it for years and I don’t delude myself. I’m an unpaid music marketer (okay, to be fair, I sometimes get paid in schwag). I’m fine if you call yourself a music writer if it makes you feel better, but don’t insult the term journalism, fake actual journalists are doing enough of that for you.
As mentioned, I’ve never gotten paid to write about music, but if you are it’s probably for a few reasons. If you write for one of the hip alt weeklies (do people other than me still call them that?), you’re getting paid to write about music so people will show up at your sponsor’s music venues and hopefully buy drinks. Your coverage is going to be pretty much about what places those people should be going to buy those drinks on any particular night of the week. You’re hocking concert tickets as well for the more well known bands, but as mentioned, those are an incredibly small minority of bands. If you’re writing for one of the bigger websites/magazines etc, you’re getting paid because record labels are paying for advertising revenue.
What about little mom and pop websites that don’t pay their writers anything? Well, you still pretty much have to watch what you say. Most websites that don’t make money secretly aspire to do so, or at least reach a broader audience. Doing that requires a publicist ass kissing routine which pretty much guarantees no one’s going to question the official position on important shit. Where’s that going to get you? In hot water with the publicists, that’s where. How’s that help you? It doesn’t. And that shitty band’s publicist might be representing that other great band you really want to do an interview with. Best to keep your mouth shut son. It’s funny, because it took me years to figure out why all the negative reviews I wrote kept getting left on the cutting room floor. I thought it was a fairly simple equation. I get an album, I write a review talking about how good or bad I think that album is. Wrong. What good does that do us? My solution to this conundrum was just ignoring publicists and PR people for the most part and writing about stuff I dug personally. I’ll come to you if I like your style.
Because I’m not the only one with this attitude, there are tons of great underground sites out there run by amazing people who probably never make a dime, but you know what you barely see? Anyone pointing out that the biggest acts of our time are typically complete shit. And the rich get richer. Which brings me to my next point.
Pitchfork Has Become Way Too Fucking Powerful
Wait, everybody says that. No, if you pay attention what everybody says is FUCK PITCHFORK MOTHERFUCKER, BLERRBITY BLANG/NERD RAGE, WHAT ARE YOU A FUCKING PUSSY?!!!!!! See, I actually like Pitchfork. Look at it constantly and before this gets ugly let me kiss their ass a little bit more. Whatever your opinion is on a lot of what the site writes about, it’s almost always at least pretty damn well written. They’ve certainly upped the ante in terms of ridiculously academic sonic over-analysis. Their writers aren’t stupid. I’ve never read an article on that site where I’ve thought, where did they find this chick? What’s normally going through my head is, who’s paying for this review? But I’ll get to that in a second. First, more ass kissing. They were the only major hipster site I saw that called bullshit on Kreayshawn and Die Antwoord. Fine work with that fellas. Sometimes you get it right, but then there are other times.
So, super creepy thing about the music industry as of late, in July of 2012 it came out that old albums are out selling new ones for the first time since Soundscan started tracking these numbers back in ‘91. Of course, to someone like me this is basically the creepiest development I’ve ever come across in my lifetime of being a hyper obsessed music weirdo. Wealth inequality getting worse at it’s worst. There’s a billion bands out there, but you know who’s super rad kids? Musicians who are already really rich and established. Give more of your money to them. I’m fairly sure this is the entire premise the VH1 network operated on for the years 2000-2010 at least (why do I watch things like VH1, what the fuck is wrong with me?) It’s the same reason they’re still making action movies with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold rather than you know, hiring one of the billion buff dudes in Hollywood who are slightly younger than a hundred. Why we’ll get crappy Disney sequels to Star Wars rather than cool new sci-fi concepts.
As if sensing the blood in the water, the second the labels realized this, it was re-issue central and watching Pitchfork bend over backwards to accommodate this ridicu-tarded micro trend has been unnerving as all get out. They’ve upped their douche game in the last six months in particular, which is pretty much what inspired this post. First, they gave a ten year re-issue of Andrew W. K.’s I Get Wet album, which they initially gave a grade of 0.6 (out of 10, right answer), an 8.6. Are you fucking kidding me? You mean the Coors Light pitch guy who hasn’t released anything anyone’s given a shit about in ten years? That guy? The exact same record? What’s even worse is that if you read the new review it basically says: this album has the dumbest lyrics in the history of the universe and all of the bonus materials are completely pointless, but 8.6 anyway because money. Sure.
About six months later they gave the tenth anniversary addition of Interpol’s Turn On the Bright Lights a 9.5, which is the same grade they gave it back in 2002 when it was their album of the freaking year. Now, if you were say, a journalist, or anyone without a vested financial interest in hyping these records wouldn’t the obvious first thing you’d write be something to the effect of: ummm, why in god’s green earth are we re-releasing albums from ten years ago? What the fuck is the point to this? It was ten years ago. We’re really getting nostalgic for early ‘aughts all ready? Seriously?
This heinous re-issue hyping trend just kept getting more preposterous when it came to the Smashing Pumpkins. First they gave an 8.1 review to a re-issue of the album Pisces Iscariot. Again, the first thing I’d mention if I was a “music journalist” tasked with reviewing this would be, soooooo, I’m reviewing a re-release of a B-Sides and rarities album? Yeah, that computes. No, I can’t think of any rational reason why anyone would pay money for this if they have the original. There’s my review. Saved myself some time by not listening to that for you, and no I don’t give a crap about the free promo. I bought that record 18 years ago.
Then it got to where in my mind the whole thing hit an existential tipping point: the huge, new, and utterly pointless deluxe re-issue of the Smashing Pumpkins supposedly seminal album Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness. You know, the 17th anniversary edition (huh?). They gave this thing a fucking 9.3. If you’re paying attention, Pitchfork albums that score as high as 9.5’s get crap like album of the year honors. This was one of the highest rated things on their site in all of 2012, and one of the absolute low points in “music journalism” history.
Here’s the thing. I knew 90’s nostalgia was going to be making the rounds again. Christ, for the last decade it was nothing but “I love the 80’s” cocaine nu wave trash rehash central. The shift to the 90’s hype train was bound to be around the corner and here we are. I feel fairly qualified to speak on this topic because I just so happened to be a teenager during that period. Guess what, in retrospect I like and dislike a lot about that era. Anywho, here’s my story about that particular album, and I’m not making this up at all or being a dick to hate on the Pumpkins, just reporting, like a “journalist” would do.
When that first dropped, I was a big SP fan. I loved both Gish, Siamese Dream, and even the aforementioned Pisces Iscariot, not to mention their brilliant track Drown on the Singles soundtrack. All of my friends dug them and it was because of this that we eagerly anticipated Mellon Collie. But then something sordid happened, namely, the Bullet with Butterfly Wings video happened.
Holy crap is that terrible. I hated it then and still hate everything about it to this day. Everyone I knew did. The second I saw that video I was like, well, there’s no way I’m buying that. It does have about the dumbest album name in the history of music too, and it’s a double album which is normally a bad sign. Guess I’ll wait for some friends to pick it up and see what they think. Yeah, not good. I was a freshman in college at the time and there was a dude in our dorm who never shut up about the wonders of the Smashing Pumpkins. It was honestly sort of annoying. Even he eventually conceded that they’d unfortunately lost the plot with that disc. Still curious, I’ll never forget taking bong rips with my friend and trying to convince him to dub me a tape (remember that?). “No man, you don’t want that album, trust me”. He put it on to prove his point. Couldn’t argue with him. I seem to remember that one disc starts with an instrumental piano ballad. WTF?
And then there were the other singles and videos. Couldn’t stand them, any of them. Such bad vibes. Maybe it’s just me, but something about the lyrics: “Emptiness is loneliness and loneliness is cleanliness and cleanliness is godliness and GOD IS EMPTY JUST LIKE ME” gets me reaching for the barf bag every time. In fact, it is this album and its terrible singles and videos which turned me, a then huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, into someone who never bought a Smashing Pumpkins record or gave a serious thought to what the Smashing Pumpkins were up to ever again. Me and a lot of other people. Again, pretty much every one I knew. We even made fun of dorks who wore the dumb ass Billy Corgan Zero shirts. But hey, 9.3 for it’s re-release. And that’s when it gets even more suspect. You see, we were 18 at the time and that was the problem, Billy Corgan made this album for 14 year olds. Even the Pitchdork reviewer chick basically admits to this and then further admits she was 15 when it dropped. Guess what else she says:
“yes, the lyrics are pissy and juvenile and fairly embarrassing”
You’d think that’d take away some points, wouldn’t you? Fame gets to some people and this was the sound of Billy Corgan’s ego fucking exploding. To further a point, after that he fired his band and then re-hired some of them, then they couldn’t deal with him, so he hired some others and then they quit. Him and the drummer were on good terms for a while but then he ended up hating him too. I can’t keep track of this crap, but what’s more important is that even Pitchfork hasn’t given anything he’s done since an even OK review (again, they’re right about some shit). So is this really the brilliant pinnacle of the guy’s career like they’re trying to sell us or when he epically jumped the shark. I know what me and everyone else I knew thought at the time and that if you paid me now I’d totally say something different. You think I like working day jobs?
I know what you’re thinking, why don’t you just stop reading Pitchfork if it pisses you off so much? Refer to the top. PITCHFORK IS WAY TOO FUCKNG POWERFUL. I read Pitchfork for the same reason Noam Chomsky reads the Wall Street Journal. Seriously, I have friends that book out of town bands. I can normally tell if it’s going to be a good draw solely based on whether or not Pitchfork’s covered them. I wish I was joking.
No One Should Ever Buy Music on iTunes, Ever
This is a big one and despite me reminding my friends about it over and over, I never seem to get through, which is why I’m probably pointlessly trying once again here. Music on Itunes not only costs more than it does on other services like Bandcamp and Amazon, but they also give way less money to the artists. Not just a little bit less, a lot less So when you buy music on Itunes, you’re not only paying more for the exact same thing, but you’re giving that extra money to Apple rather than the musicians. Wasn’t I just talking about wealth inequality? Apple totally needs more money. Totally. Contrary to popular belief, paid downloads on Amazon or Bandcamp are essentially more profitable than any kind of physical merch imaginable. There’s barely any overhead at all and they only take .15 to .20 cents on the dollar. Support bands, fuck Itunes. Repeat this mantra to yourself until you get it through your impossibly thick skulls.
Musicians are Basically Drug Peddlers
This is a big one. You know where most of the money in the music business comes from? Yeah, alcohol sales. Venues ask your band out so you’ll bring your friends/fans and they’ll buy marked up drinks. Anytime anyone talks about the music industry flailing I’m like, wait, alcohol sales in clubs are down? I don’t believe that. That’s the fucking music industry, and why so many musicians end up in rehab. With this in mind, I’ve consciously tried to make music that’s schilling weed and psychedelics rather than the brainless Pabst over indulgence the clubs love you for. It’s the most simplistic concept ever. You know how most bands are trying to sell you the drunken rowdy experience? I’m trying to sell you blissed out weed transcendence. And that’d be another thing no one talks about. If marijuana gets regulated to the point where we can have legit hash venues, this opens up an entirely new revenue stream which will in turn open up an entirely new view towards the kind of music we consume and how. It’s in the works. I bet it’d be pretty much the best thing in the universe for live comedy as well. And with that I realize that I could keep going on for ever and ever here but this is already well past a lot of people’s internet article attention spans and probably my own. Until next time tripsters.