Friday, April 28, 2017

What Musicians Can Teach Us About Employment In A Digital World

It was 1998, the Internet came creeping into our lives like the first tendrils of creamer in a cup of coffee.  The first round of CD burners had to be bought separately. They cost almost half as much as the computer itself with a strong possibility of installing an additional port to connect the giant serial cable.  It wouldn't be more than 3 or 4 years before every computer came with a CD-R as a standard drive. Around that time Napster snuck in with file sharing technology utilizing MP3 compression.  Piracy was no longer about the old tape dub paradigm of buying a cd and making copies for friends. Now you could just go find any new album posted up by someone on the other side of the country.

We had record/video stores back then and the harbinger of doom that would eventually put record stores out of business and loose havoc on the Record industry confronted you in tubes of 10, 50, and 150 CD-Rs on a shelf where top ten albums used to live. The big labels mustered all their collective strength and tried to put up a fight.  DART already gave them a portion of the sales of blank media, but they went further suing websites and even consumers using the file sharing and piracy websites.  It was way too late though, technology had drifted into Wild West territory.  $14.99 could never compete with free.  

In those days, Silicon Valley was quickly maneuvering the wild west of cyberspace into real world supremacy. The computer industry simply had more economic clout than the record industry.  Freedom of speech warred with intellectual property.  There was no game book on how to fight a data storm.  When bandwidth started growing and the video industry became threatened by the same fate as the music industry piracy really met a slightly more prepared foe. The danger of malware being downloaded with the desired new movie or album contributed to that portion of the internet becoming a shady red light district.  SOPA had its moment but collapsed under scrutiny of totalitarianism. Eventually legal disruption would siphon off the profits into software gatekeepers. One by one technology would beat out established institutions,  Netflix would destroy Blockbuster and Spotify and YouTube would become primary means of media distribution. Streaming and On Demand would replace owning and rentals.  Uber and Lyft came for the Taxi companies.  AirBnB came for the hotel industry. Amazon came for brick and mortar retail.  It won't be long before all incomes are effected by this blossoming Technological Revolution, that's the world we live in now.    

So how do we survive?

Musicians, even in the glory days were at the bottom of the food chain.   The creators of the content so deeply craved were consistently beholding record labels who took as little as 50% of all revenue, after recouped costs for advances on recording, touring and promoting.  As now, few rose to the top and made fortunes.  The industry funneled investment into "sure shots" leading gradually to more generic than the generic that came before. Quality of creation suffered for economics, taste factored less and less as businessmen discovered the population would consume whatever they doled out. Minimum investment maximum gain.  

The Internet at the turn of the millennium held a momentary promise of democratizing the industry, returning power to creators by tearing down the infrastructure between creators and consumers.  Little did we know what that meant, but we all made our MySpace pages and bought into the new paradigm.  We were the forefront of the "indie" revolution, directly accessing and selling to our fans like never before. 

The modern musician cannot consider creating music their sole occupation. The artist needs now be an entrepreneur, a marketing expert, a booking agent, a tour and business manager, a publisher, a lawyer, a graphic designer, a highly connected networker, etc. etc.  Oh, and you also need a day job. Fortunately most of this new "workload" can be done from a smart phone. Simultaneously, technology also simplified actual creation, enabling common to achieve standard quality with little or no effort. The market floods, the commodity of music suffers a sort of inflation despite being consumed more than ever before, and the value of the consumable drops dramatically...Yet fortunes are to be made by offering access. 

So a shift occured in the nature of the artist.  They continue creating, no longer expecting any real recompense in the here and now.  However, the greatest tragedy the artist can imagine is going through the struggle and loving effort of creating a masterpiece no one will ever see, and a new niche of visibility middlemen was born. Those offering access to consumers convinced the content creators that sharing everything for free rewards the commodity of exposure (potentially with a someday payout).  Every kid with GarageBand is giving away their tracks on ReverbNation while BFA Composers lurk in forums like beggars seeking an unpaid gigs to build a portfolio, and if you wiggle your ears right while touching your nose with your elbow you can get your stuff on internet radio or Spotify. Opportunistic Business Sharks circle picking at the edges.  Music libraries accept submissions and take 50% for royalty free placement.   Networking gatekeepers commodify connections.  Pay to post "seeking", pay to respond.  We fall under the spell of "Market through Facebook, build up a following..." Pay for some ads or risk invisibility.  Use the tools and platforms and networking sites.  Play friendly. Schmooze a little.  Email influencers, like their feeds.  Get a shout out from a blog. See a bump in new commodity of likes.  Pour more hours into the marketing struggle. 

Somehow the system, like a great alchemist, turned creativity into a form of consumerism. 

If the goal was to make a living doing what we love, how did we end up convinced that doing something else would open the doors to getting rich off of our dreams?  It was madness focusing on results instead of process.  Putting promotion over the craft, leaning ladders against wrong walls and wondering why results aren't forthcoming. We called the new pursuit branding and identity.  It's what the stars were doing. All the Success Blogs said it was imperative to breaking through the noise and being noticed.  They sold the desire to be perceived into an outer ideal, rather than leveraging our personal truth, we lost sight of the path.  To have all those hours back, to instead perfect something hidden but unmistakably genius. 

Time unlocks purpose when faced with giving up childhood idolizations and moving on or choosing to carry our efforts into an uncertain future.  Every year that passes you must make a decision to continue. The source of resiliency is passion. The journey is the destination. Everything needed to know could be found in practice.  Slowing down through a difficult passage.  Persistence to build strength and speed.  Coordination and altering approach. Internalizing and assimilating.  Learning the rules to break them.  Baby steps towards greatness.  The practice improves the whole person. The pursuit was a spiritual one, meditations in motion, one step cleaner, faster, stronger, longer. To find joy by disappearing in the effort.  

And that is when you get the reward...  


So how does all of this relate to a coal miner?  

I don't think of coal mining as an emotionally rewarding task.  Not particularly good for the environment either.  Coal miners are, however, losing their lucrative jobs like musicians did thanks to changing technology.   Like musicians they are in need of day jobs. Gainful employment.  


What followed originally was a diatribe against the failings of late capitalism and a romantic exploration of a utopian future. This derailed into a whole new post. To be read...

Instead I'll conclude with the original design intact.   What musicians have to teach us about 
employment in a digital age is:

On occasion you may have to do some menial shit you don't want to do in order to finance the life you accept living.  It may seem beneath you but if it keeps you fed, with a roof over your head you can survive enough to side hustle a true ambition.  Start planting the seeds today and water them every chance you get.

Constantly seek personal improvement with persistence and focus.  A siren song of media and marketing seeks to convert your efforts into their profits. Don't fall for it.  Pursue your goal diligently. Find interest in the cloud surrounding your path and grow from where you are.   Become the best at what you want to be, if you are not that then the propping up will blow down in the first wind.  Change is inevitable, the skills of today will become obsolete tomorrow. If you are not climbing you are sliding down hill.  A good investor will tell you to diversify... the same goes for skills and talents.  Never stop learning.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Musings On Old Art

Old art and the acquisition of new skills leaves one to wonder whether or not they should go "George Lucas" on old projects and revitalize them or let them go and move on to the next creation, pushing forward once again into uncharted territory.  A third option exists which is destroy it and never ever let it be seen. Ever. 

The great fear is perpetual turd polishing, that yesterdays little baby was in fact a giant useless piece of shit that needs flushing.  The great waste is hoarding work expecting that some day its inherent value will increase like wine in a cask. 

One might consider art an exercise to develop self, but if the past is just training for that which is to come then should the fruit of that labor be disposable or hidden like a dirty secret.  Art created in a vacuum might serve some cathartic purpose of time passage but will doubtful bring the outcome of self expression the artist needs.   Art by its nature demands a sacrificial victim to experience the creation.  Its reward center craves the notice of another for the price of sharing.  Value allotted to art lies solely with the beholder.  Take a look at the works of Basquiat for example: childish, simple, however lauded and applauded, held in high esteem by collectors, highly priced.  What is it that sets these works apart?  Certainly we are somewhat attracted to the lives of these artists, elevating value with the use of celebrity and hype. Ideally the childish free playing artist presented to the masses will die young leaving the collectors to hype and create inflated value for the now obligation free investment. The value of abstraction will always be questionable, and most of the time a name is all that matters...I digress. 
I think I'm presenting a case for outsider music, the schizophrenic on a Casio keyboard.  They are found on the street their dedication brings them to the attention of at least a select few who herald it as innovative and original. Its existence goes against everything the mainstream wishes to cram down our collective throats. 

This does not serve the evolving artist   seeking technical mastery behind creativity.  I venture to say that the artist in pursuit of this virtuoso goal will never be able to achieve it because the horizon of quality will always be over the next mountain.  It seems such a waste that those early mountains should be lost. Thus reiterating whether or not one should go back to early works to "fix" them with quality and skills acquired in later life.  

 I seem to be on the fence about this issue because I would rather move on and create something new than spend my time re-examining and repairing my past. Yet I am reluctant to let go even of things that now serve only as embarrassing milestones.  Occasionally I think that kid as stupid and naive as he was had some decent ideas.  Most of those thoughts were incomplete and crippled from inception. They laid dormant on hard drives for years. Stealing precious gigabytes and waiting to be nurtured from inadequacy into a state of sharability.  Growth and life experience leads us away from that place  and now as a completely different person it seems pointless to have these immature ideas lingering around and taking up space. By Beiber standards they could have been great, but who is holding them self to Bieber standards.  That silliness needs be delivered by a 15-23 year old like the one that wrote it.  That silliness needs someone like the grown up I am now make it good.  That moment has passed, I am different, the culture is different, and going back to reshape my little gremlin babies seems wrong but necessary if I was to proudly present them to the light of day. 

These works I have snuck into being invisibly available to the scrutiny of the public eye. The cost is seeking them,  which turns out is a lofty price to pay.  I create some new name for an old thing and banish it to exile in some dark corner of the web, mostly to keep them from dying, or at least tell myself I didn't kill them.  When these works were made there was no YouTube or Bandcamp, or ReverbNation. MySpace was the start of all that, and even that was late to the party.   So the works have served no purpose in exposure.  Instead it's me that now needs to shine a light on these blighted creations.  I want them to go be their own thing.  Their connection to my name leads me to prefer that they fit the personal brand I now seek to maintain, but instead they represent a kid I once was. I love them for that but they exist as reminders that that kid wasn't good enough. 

 In today's society who we are and what we show are expected to be two separate things.  The past that helped arrive somewhere is not so important as where the public eye sees and recognizes our current position. 
Ideally that current position would be above the herd so that they might look up in adoration and respect or envy and loathing... As long as they are looking. 

The great fault lies in not putting each thing out as it comes.  YouTube is littered with kids posting amateur videos, some of these videos launch careers and pave the way to work with talents that compensate and elevate the artists brand allowing their genius to shine down upon the masses. In the new world of "Content  Is King", quality may not be as important as it once was.  Polished can come across as fake, amateur can come across as genuine.  

Perhaps our evolution can be an inspiration to help another start challenging them self.  Perhaps improving our old art can help us develop new skills or help us touch back on a commercial sensibility rejected along the way. All I know is if I stop creating, I might as well be dead.  The stuff I'm making now I'm pretty happy with.  5 years from now I'll probably feel like it's garbage, and that's ok because that means I'm getting better. 




Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Cooky Creativity of OddBlossom

Strippers, insects, and zombie dogs mashed in old time film against a back drop of experimental pop await those brave enough to face garbage dump wonderlands of collected media scrambled and reassembled under monochrome names like Pop Poubelism.
   
Some time around 2006 an adventure of growing pains was undertaken and attributed to a childish alter ego,  Bram Urban.  OddBlossom became a public archive of audio works discarded in inevitable growth and way past their expiration date.  Eventually explorations in video led back to old musical exploration and once again the child has room to play once again.


 
Cinema City by OddBlossom 
2012 album "4 CM Off Reality. "    
production by LogicalCurl.

Drinking on the Job is no good for any performer but sometimes, just sometimes, it works out for the audience.   
DaRk CiTy DaZe by OddBlossom.
"4 CM Off Reality"
 Video Edited from Dance Of Life by LogicalCurl.




Armed with the artistic vision and commercial aspirations of Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, Bram Urban set his sights on making a statement on the disposibility of popular music. Fueled by the Outsider Music notion of finding perfection in imperfection OddBlossom achieves the state of songwriting rawness lost in the blasé standards of modern plastic production techniques, Bram Urban's post contemporary sound is born of what the french labeled as " Poubellisme". The junk art aesthetic manifests itself through out his works as Bram Urban destroys multi tracks after early development preventing revision or the endless polishing of trite origins.  By releasing the first creation and making a decision not to censor the muse, Bram Urban thins the barriers between Composition and Improvisation. Instead the artist turns to a perpetual reuse of a vast collection of old material, remixing again and again recordings, remixes, previous creations in cycles until out of chaos and assembly a natural shape emerges. Thus Bram Urban serves as the mirror on celebrity and narcissist culture while maintaining a sound that its completely distinctive.
 






Thursday, August 20, 2015

Blanton's Greatest Hits!

In the process of overhauling multiple websites for compatibility with Mobile devices,  I've spent the last two days, and all my background processing,  pooling together samples from my disparate audio projects,  making in essence a "Greatest Hits" record.  It's a little western(Mesquite Treason), a little technopop(OddBlossom), a little ambient(SynaFleur), A little noisy(Mouth of Ash), a little cutesy(kinda sorta like me).  You can listen or download it here.  I call it "Nature Of Being."




Sunday, February 22, 2015

Autoharp Etude

This flashback to the past returns us to the days of The Flora Studio for a behind the scenes look at the madness behind Etudes In Construction Of Timbre

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Demonstration of Electro-Acoustic Digital Concréte

More Flashbacks to the Flora studio, this time for a demonstration and documentation of a recent change in the ImprovMachina version who knows what.  It is a view of part of my process,  program a little,  play a little,  the only thing missing is the edit a little. So here you get raw and untapped from The Flora Studio circa 2013.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Art Film To Accompany Cheyenne by Mesquite Treason

Using a telescope and a handycam I've created an abstract documenting of
the Joshua Tree Studio and the stick art I'm building on the side. 
This is a Return to Etudes In Construction Of Timbre, The second album Released as Mesquite Treason.