Wednesday, March 24, 2010


GraffitiMaybe it was a symptom of not being at SXSW, but I've been craving live music lately. And not just the bands I know either.

In addition to seeing a bunch of different live shows last week, the other night I nearly made it out to a non-predetermined club to see whoever was playing. I don't think I've ever shown up at a club for no reason. There's always been a reason - I like their music, a friend wants to go, I work for them, I need to check them out, I was given free tickets. As I said, I nearly made it out, so I don't get full credit, but it felt liberating to not have a plan.

On the planned side, I saw the weirdest live music performance I've ever seen in the form of Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat-singer. I've seen and admired the Tuvan style of throat-singing, but this was different altogether. Imagine that sound you make when you stretch first thing in the morning but while inhaling and beatboxing and sounding tortured. And imagine that you're Bjork and you hug everyone and you really like steaks. I sound like I'm making fun of her, but the cool thing about her was her sincerity and lack of irony. That and she ended the night by saying "Thank you for accepting weird." I was enamored.

The following night at Rock and Roll Hotel I enjoyed the crack band and countryesque croonings of middle opener April Smith and the Great Picture Show while remaining underwhelmed and disappointed by the droning from indie darlings Here We Go Magic - kind of like Arcade Fire but with fewer hooks. Also liked The Dig at the 9:30 Club who I've been meaning to see because they're friends of a friend and Port O'Brien. Portugal. The Man headlined, but by then I was too hungry to hang around; did learn that they're from Wasilla, Alaska though.

Now I head off to New Orleans for another few days of talking about activism with musicians and a rock show at One Eyed Jacks.

I guess the pick-a-band adventure will wait until another night.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Music as Gewgaw

I admit I live in the bubble of the embattled independent music world. Given that, it was an interesting experience to spend two days in the Corporate Music World when I attended Digital Music Forum East on February 24 and 25 in NYC. Some thoughts on my foray into that strange land:

- Music-as-most-definitely-a-business: I was looking forward to hearing David Pakman, formerly CEO of emusic, now with venture capital firm Venrock, because I'm a subscriber and emusic's obviously been looking to grow their audience and their bottom line lately. The noteworthy point for me of his interview was that, contrary to the many emusic subscribers who cried foul when they started offering some Sony titles last year, Pakman describes emusic's niche of independent music as a business decision. They took the path of least resistance - with the independent labels who were more willing to license to them at decent rates - and built a business model around them. Which says to me, that while the indieness-as-godliness image of emusic might still be "authentic", it's an image built to support a business model, not the reverse.

If that's the case, there's nothing wrong with that since it enabled the rise of one of the most successful digital music retailers ever...but I'd bet it's an affront to all those people who hold emusic as a standard-bearer for the indie aesthetic (whatever the hell that means these days). If you think I paint too strong a picture, try googling "emusic sellout" - it's not all about this topic, but it's a prominent theme.

- A guy from MTV Music was asked why they don't play more music videos. That's probably the most asked question to all MTV employees ever. He talked about how the channel is about more than music videos. And since the schedule has all seven hours of music videos programmed, from 3 AM - 10 AM, I agree. But why not own up to it? Just say that "My Life as Liz" garners more viewers than music videos ever did. No, they're not saying that in so many words but they did quietly drop the words "Music Television" from the logo recently.

- Branding, image, markets, profits, brand penetration, so much about music as a thing to sell other stuff. For example, a question asked from the stage: "do you need music to brand a product or just an engaged audience?" Now I recognize that many indie bands would happily license their song to Sears to fund their next tour. Making money to further your career isn't selling out - these days, it's surviving, which translates to winning the game.

My beef with this whole line of discussion is that it's not about music, rather it's about how to make McDonald's/Proctor & Gamble/Jeep more successful - with the incidental help of X artist/song. Throughout my two days there was very little discussion about paying artists, many complaints about licensing costs, and I'd almost swear I saw the audience smile kindly and condescendingly at the one guy who spoke from the stage of signing artists to his label for their music rather than their marketability! As they all acknowledged, it's a rough business to be in - now and ever. If you're not in it for the music, then why bother? Go sell tires instead already.

It's like that call I got once from some guy wanting to know how easy it was to make good money making music. He seemed to expect me to have a roadmap handy. *Smile* *Sigh*