Monday, April 27, 2009


I highly recommend taking your birthday off from work if you can swing it. I write this from Boston after spending the weekend in Chicago with Alicia and Davide.

Chicago was cool - quality time with friends, good food, drinks, White Sox vs. Blue Jays at Comiskey, a little window-shopping, a bunch of episodes of West Wing season 7, and the puppy even finally stopping her violent barking at me. Yeah, we got rained on more than planned, but I'm so glad I went. Somehow taking time off at home doesn't seem nearly as relaxing as doing far more away from home. More photos here.

I'm now in Boston, which is a quick trip to see family, get my hair cut and do whatever else is possible in 50 hours. The best part though has been talking with my parents about our upcoming Morocco trip this summer. I'm looking forward to hanging with the cousins in Morocco, but the trip has also inspired lots of thinking about what else I could do while I'm in the general vicinity. I'll be wandering around Barcelona for a few days, but the future trips are enticing: hiking in Corsica, trekking around the Maritime Alps, being in Paris for the last stage of the Tour de France, or visiting my friend Bek in the Netherlands.

I'm finding, too, that the methods of transport intrigue me particularly. Flying has annoyed me more than usual lately, so the idea of getting to Corsica by boat and traveling to the Maritime Alps by train and then walking for a week or two to get to the Mediterranean is appealing.

I won't get to do any of that on this trip probably, but wanderlust is an intoxicating yet comforting feeling that I hadn't realized I missed.

For a few years, I planned and took one trip off the continent per year. I couldn't afford it after I returned from two plus months in Asia homeless, jobless and savings-less, but now that I'm not quite so poor...well, it may be a plan I should resurrect.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Whole Story

Last week Hypebot explored the future of the album as an organizing principle for music with, among others, Bob Lefsetz as resident anti-album crank and New Music Tipsheet's Scott Perry on defense.

While I spend plenty of time shuffling my ipod, there are still releases that need the context of their album to make aural sense: any Wilco release from the last 10 years, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, David Bowie, and that's just from the very limited contents of my iTunes library. What ties all these releases together are the artists who craft for the format by curating works of art that hang together like an arch and need every piece to be fully realized.

Though albums might not be appropriate for all genres of music, I don't see all artists wanting to give away the chance to make an album-sized statement. Gang of Four's Dave Allen may disagree with me (though not entirely coherently), but I don't see the album-length format disappearing until artists stop creating for it.


Speaking of albums, I missed Record Store Day but still struck out when I went digging at Crooked Beat on Sunday. Right now, I'm mildly obsessed with the new Metric album and its no-labels-need-apply release strategy.

More than tunes though I've been devouring books: Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicles last week snuck up on me in an excellent way and Eyal Press' Absolute Convictions this weekend. Absolute Convictions, in particular, is a remarkably even-handed social history looking at how economic conditions, religious fundamentalism, and increasingly violent anti-abortion tactics resulted in the murder of Barnett Slepian, a colleague of the author's father. While I'm waiting to for the library to deliver the next great read, I'm hop-scotching through Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.

This weekend I'm off to do a little road-tripping to Chicago and then Boston and then a leisurely train ride back to DC. I'm really looking forward to the train ride!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Value of Music

Last week, FMC released a document detailing some principles for artist compensation in the digital age.

Reading through the echo chamber that resulted made me think.

We have copyright and patent law:
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
"Promot[ing]...the Arts" means to me that our Constitution encourages and rewards creativity that has value. All artistic creations aren't meant to be equal; instead, the Constitution sets up a meritocracy. In short, a creator has an exclusive right for a limited period of time to benefit from their creation IF others put value on it.

In some of the best parts of Larry Lessig's latest book Remix, he discusses what copyright used be for (sheet music and player piano rolls), who it used to affect (not you, me and your grandma), and how a bunch of small, unnoticed changes got us to where we are now. The problem now, of course, is in trying to derive money from a creation that's no longer tangible but freely available.

But doesn't anything that you want have an intrinsic value to you? The problem is only in not having found a way yet to collect money on that intrinsic value.

Skill, talent, creativity and experience have value. I wouldn't go into a restaurant and eat a meal and expect to skip out on the tab. I wouldn't hire a carpenter to frame my house and expect to stiff him. The intangible thing - the song - that a musician creates is no different.

And if copyright is abolished and musicians in the future only get paid on live shows and merchandise and whatever their fans will donate to help them record?

Well, musicians will continue writing and performing music, but it would be harder for some to make a living since they'd have to tour to be paid resulting in more musicians with day jobs; songwriters would suffer since they don't tour; recordings would probably sound worse since more of them would be done on Garageband rather than in studios; the recording/producer/studio industry would shrink since fewer bands would be able to afford a studio recording; recordings might become akin to a vanity press; the way we promote music might change since we'd no longer necessarily be promoting an album...and I could keep going.

Maybe that will be the next incarnation of the music industry. But, for better or for worse, I don't think so. There are too many people with too much at stake for that to realistically happen. The ISP levy experiment on the Isle of Man is an interesting step towards the future.

It doesn't matter how, by whom, or whether the system of payment to musicians resembles the train wreck that it is now. The important part is ensuring that the inherent value of creativity gets recognized.

My guess is that everyone will finally strike a balance that makes no one entirely happy - which is the mark of a good deal anyway - and we'll all attribute today's kvetching to growing pains.