For $3 at a library book sale I picked up a copy of Releasing an Independent Record, revised 4th edition, by Gary Hustwit, published in 1994 by Rockpress Publishing Co. The short review is: Times have changed.
Gary’s advice is that if you want to get your music out, don’t go to one of the existing labels. Start your own. In 1993, that was pretty radical even though it required you to emulate the major labels’ processes, albeit starting from scratch and with no budget. So,the bulk of Gary’s manual is a directory of the services you’ll need to hire. He assumes you’ve already got a tape of your music. So, now you need to find a tape duplication house. You also need to get the paperwork done to set up your label’s bank account, and don’t forget the rubber stamp: “Depending on what formats you release, you’ll need a ton of different sized envelopes, and stamping the return address is easier than having them printed or writing it by hand.”
There are also handy, multi-page lists of the press to contact and the local radio stations (remember them?) to flog your songs to. And booking agents and promoters. And record labels so you can “See if your label name is already taken.” Oh, and you might want to check “if they’re interested in licensing your record.”
A quick google reveals that Gary is now a director of documentaries. I saw and liked Helvetica, and Objectified is on my Netflix list.
On the last page, there’s an ad for Rockpress’ other four books. My favorite is Hell on Wheels, by Greg Jacobs:
A compilation of tour stories from 40 bands, including ALL, aMINIATURE, Babes in Toyland, Big Drill Car, Buck Pets, Buffalo Tom, Butthole Surfers, Cadillac Tramps, Chune, Circle Jerks, Coffin Break, The Cult, Descendents, Doughboys, The Dwarves, Ethyl Meatplow, fIREHOSE, The Germs, God Machine, Kill Sybil, King Missile, L7, Luscious Jackson, Mary’s Danish, Melvins, Minutemen, Naked Raygun, Overwhelming Colorfast, Popdefect, Rockets from the Crypt, Screaming Sirens, Skin Yard, Superchunk, Supersuckers, Surgery, UK Subs, and X.
I recognize a couple —it’s not my demographic, people — but that list’s got a bit of Key and Peele about it, don’t you think?
I know it’s the day after the day after Christmas, but I’m still going to give you a gift. A gift of Schiff.
I heard Andras Schiff on the radio a couple of days ago and it reminded me how much I’ve enjoyed his discussions of Beethoven’s piano sonatas before he’s performed them. He plays with passion but has an analytic understanding of the compositions. And, no, I’m not sure why I used “but” as the conjunction in that sentence.
Anyway, you can download the lectures here, thanks to The Guardian. (Thank you, The Guardian!)
Schiff said on the radio the other day that as he gets older, his understanding increases but his technical ability decreases. It makes me hope that we get some software that lets a master like him manipulate musical notation to produce a digital version of the performance that he would have liked to be able to give. Or will it turn out that there are so many variables for how you strike a note and string them together that such software is like wishing that Meryl Streep could instruct a digitizal avatar to act as well as she does?
Brad Turcotte, AKA BradSucks, has put out his new album, Guess Who’s a Mess. It is tuneful, dark, and remarkably well done. I like not only his music, lyrics, and voice, but also his skill as a producer. He is, in fact, a one-man band++.
So, you ought to buy his album, first because I think you’ll enjoy it; you can listen for free to decide. Second, Brad’s exactly the sort of artist the Web should support: no DRM, tracks posted for remixing, continuous interaction with his listeners as he develops new songs. He trusts the Web. We should repay that trust. It’s the least we can do.
At my request, Brad sent me an unedited copy of his lyrics. He’ll undoubtedly post a better version soon. But for now, here they are.
A few days ago I pointed to Elizabeth ‘s thread at Reddit where she engaged with the public in a way that everyone who manages customer support, PR, or marketing ought to learn from.
Today, Amanda Palmer posted about her current Kickstarter project, which has raised $855,000 with eight days yet to run. Her goal was $100,000…except in her post she responds with complete frankness (she’s AFP, after all) about what her real expectations were. The post is both an explanation and a demonstration of how musicians and theandir audiences can love and support each other.
A couple of days ago I was talking with my friend Gianluca Baccanico who was telling me that he enjoys playing the same track over and over and over and over for days. I happened to have my camcorder with me (do we still call them that?):
Larisa Mann (AKA DJ Ripley), a doctoral candidate at Berkeley Law, is giving a Berkman talk titled “Decolonizing copyright: Jamaican street dances and globally networked technology.” [I had to talk a phone call during the first ten minutes :( ]
NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.
Her question: Does globally networked technology and/or copyright law reinforce the coloniality of power? She explicitly takes coloniality as undesirable because it unequally distributes power. She is looking particularly at Jamaica. Copyright law is colonial in Jamaica, she says, since it was written by the British for their colony.
There are culturally specific assumptions at work in copyright law: that there are discrete, identifiable, individual authors who are separate from consumers, it’s about originality, and works are “fixed” (discrete and identifiable).
An example. A riddim is the instrumental part of a song, Larissa says. Riddims circulate independently from vocals in Jamaica. They’ve been recorded since the 1950s, if not before. Many songs use the same riddim. One site has cataloged 279 songs that use the Stalag 17 riddim, for example.
DJs will play series of songs using the same riddim, which many dancers like since they know what’s coming. Riddims become “shared cultural knowledge,” she says. People know them by name. They recognize the samples in songs. Riddims create shared knowledge and enable engagement with the current musical environment.
But riddims contradict copyright: shared, repeated, unoriginal. “Technology can bring copyright law considerations into people’s daily practices.” Law gets embedded into tech. But this can disrupt valuable cultural practices, like riddims.
Dancers have become among the most highly discussed and famous in Jamaica, at least in part due to the availability of video. E.g., videos of the Boasy Tuesday party are online, and you can learn the dances from it. People become famous from these videos.
The good side of network tech is that it eases circulation, you can achieve international fame, and it can increase your local reputation. And in Jamaica, financial and social relationships overlap.
The bad side is that there’s more surveillance, both of daily life and of the circulation of audio/video materials. This can lead to lawsuits that could discourage practices such as sampling or using riddims.
“Exilic spaces” are spaces at the margins of law. That’s where a lot of culture lives, and where there’s a lot of potential for equality.
Q: Has there been any move to change Jamaican copyright law?
A: In 1993, when Jamaica joined the WTO, they rewrote their copyright law to be aligned with the WTO approach. There’s some pushback at WIPO where some Southern countries are trying to get a developing world agenda. Jamaica is not a part of that. And it would be a tremendous problem for Jamaica to withdraw from the WTO.
Q: The sound systems and crews also contribute to the music…
A: Producing CDs to sell the music isn’t an important part of the Jamaican music scene. The sounds and crews were often associated with liquor stores, and made their money that way. It’s still the case that they generally don’t generate money by selling recordings but through events.
Q: If you’re a music producer in Jamaica and would like to have your artist go for the big money, are you pro or con copyright?
A: I’ve spoken with many, and they’re divided. If people want to buy recordings, they tend to buy unlicensed mix CDs. Producers both want a cut and want their artists’ names to be known. (Artists frequently put their producers’ names into their music so others can find the producers.) There’s payola, too; people are desperate to get their music on the radio.
Q: What type of actual enforcement attempts are there against individual Jamaicans,? Also, do artists’ positions about copyright change as they become successful?
A: Sometimes artists’ positions change. They’re sophisticated about knowing when to use the formal systems. Enforcement depends on how much power you have. I can’t find a single Jamaican who’s sued another.
Q: Jamaica has strong class distinctions…
A: The coloniality of power filters all the way through the system. People at the top are more comfortable using the legal system to enforce their will. The upper classes are often uncomfortable with what goes on in exilic spaces and they are often unwilling to invest in the culture of the urban poor.
Q: How does gender play into this, which is a different power dynamic. The previous prime minister was a woman. Are women producers?
A: Women are important force on the dance floor. There are not a lot of women producers. I met two female engineers. There are not as many female vocalists as men. But women are much more employable in Jamaica in other jobs; they have more access to economic stability. So it’s not that the men have the opportunity to achieve global fame and fortune and thus are better off; the men have much more difficulty getting stable jobs.
Q: How do the riddim creators get compensated?
A: Riddims tend to be made once and then re-used, although sometimes they get re-done. People don’t get royalties. If your riddim is hot, you’re a hot producer, which means people hire you.
Q: Are people trying to come up with a more legalistic, more open license for riddims, etc.?
A: Not really. In part that’s because the law is presented as if it were the rational way to do things. It’s presented as the professional way. If you want to make it, you’re told that’s how you ought to transform yourself. If it’s going to change, it should map the way artists actually work.
Q: How do you think Jamaica will change its means of cultural production? Has there been a chilling effect?
A: People’s ability to participate in these networks can be chilled. As channels get successful, they often clamp down. We should be looking to Jamaica for inspiration as we globally think about copyright. The amount of artistic and cultural production in Jamaica is astounding.
Q: Copyright is crazy.
A: Yes. If you post your tribute to a rock guitar solo, as you get better at the solo, the more likely it’ll be taken down. It’s like an accolade.
Q: You said that if a policy is divorced from reality, why have it? Maybe the answer is that they constructed their copyright law in order to get into WPO, without any effort to enforcement.
A: The problem is that the WTO requires compliance and can enforce trade sanctions against you.
Q: Do you think Jamaicans’ attitude toward copyright is different than that of Americans?
A: It’s hard to generalize about Americans about this. Many Jamaicans are very positive about copyright law because it manages what you’ve already made and gets you what is yours, but they often don’t think about the effect it has on culture and creativity. Also, Jamaicans have not had an historical experience of being treated well by global systems, so it’s important to them to own stuff. The question is: What does ownership mean in this context? They have a different idea of what is ownable.
Q: You fundamentally misstate the situation. You say that we don’t have colonialism now. But now we have neo-colonialism.
A: That’s what I intended. I didn’t mean to leave the opposite impression. [She didn't leave that wrong impression with me - dw]
Q: As a Jamaican, I agree that it’s very much bottom up. And why don’t producers take more ownership? Because the shelflife of these riddims is measure in weeks. By the time you get your paperwork approved, it’ll be over.
A: Since there isn’t ownership of that sort, there’s a tremendous impetus to keep creating.
The names of the top bands of the 1960s are so much a part of them that it’s almost impossible to think of the names simply as names. But let’s make the effort in order to evaluate how good their names were.
Of course, names can be good in many ways. They can be descriptive, ironic, memorably eccentric. But, it seems to me that some of the best bands had the worst names.
Here’s an unordered and, of course, utterly subjective list, graded on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is best:
Jefferson Airplane: Retro + modern + meaningless = psychedelic. 8
Supremes : Cocky, but lived up to it. 8
Rolling Stones: Great name for itinerant minstrels. Terrible name for a rock band. 4
Fairport Convention: Appropriately rustic and archaic. If it didn’t sound like the name of an obscure British peace treaty or forgotten dart rules, it’d be close to perfect. 8
Grateful Dead: Good hyperbolic name for a metal group. Totally inappropriate for a group as sunny as this. Points added because they were clearly tripping when they came up with it. 6
Mamas and Papas: Terrific name for a kiddy band. Meh name for a pop group of young, non-parental units. 5
Gladys Knight and the Pips: Pips? Really? Is this a British vaudeville group that comes out in boaters? All of this band’s points go to the first half of its name: 3
The Beach Boys: Beach music sung by boys. Sounds frivolous, but then they sing. Frivolously. And then they record Pet Sounds. 9
Four Tops: There are four of them. They are the tops. The naming convention flags their genre. Well done, lads! 9
The Doors: An incredibly prosaic name that works ironically for their druggy music. Plus, it’s an appropriate literary reference — which would be better if their worst songs weren’t the ones that opened the doors of perception the widest. They shouldn’t have asked The Lizard King’s opinion. 9
The Four Seasons: They have nothing to do with the seasons. They have nothing to do with Vivaldi. It’s a bland, generic, misleading, slightly pretentious, placeholder of a name. Point added for the correct counting of band members. 2
Gerry and the Pacemakers: You know immediately what sort of band they are, unless you hear “pacemaker” as a medical device and think that they’re going to show up in walkers and plaid pants buckled beneath their pot bellies. Gotta split the difference on this one: 4
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: The Mothers were men, plus you have the swear-word implication, plus they were actually inventive. All of which doesn’t even matter. You had me at “Zappa.” 10
The Byrds: Did they misspell it because “birds.com” was already taken? Oh, wait. They misspelled it to be cool.
genericName + misspelling = genericName – 2. Final score: 1
Creem: Ironically refined food-based name. Sexual connotation. Bold statement that they were a super-group composed of the filtered extract of great other groups. The lack of a definite article makes it even cockier. 10
Sly and the Family Stone: You’ve got the slyness of “Sly” and the family-ness of “Family,” but together with a straight-on drug reference. A totally wtf name for a wtf group. 9
Steppenwolf: Sounds vaguely and appropriately threatening and aggressive, despite the totally inappropriate literary reference. 7
Credence Clearwater Revival: The length of the name has a throwback quality, and the three words each independently says that this is a group about something simple and pure. It would have been a terribly pretentious name for a folk group, but it works better for a rock group. 5
Led Zeppelin: The winner in a contentious argument about what to name a psychedelicious band, if the band members were all 14 years old. For an adult band, it’s just embarrassing. 3
The Beatles: See Led Zeppelin, but drop the band’s age to 12. “Oooh, and we can spell it B-E-AT instead of B-E-E-T.” Is it an accident that as far as I know, the Beatles never once used a beetle in their iconography? Terrible terrible name. Point added because they were the FREAKING BEATLES OMG OMG. 2