Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Most of the laughing audio that is used in TV shows and movies today was recorded in the 1940 - 1950s. The majority of those people you hear laughing are now dead.


If the success of Owl City isn't enough to convince you that hipster culture has gone off the rails (converging with the mainstream and losing touch with the artistic culture on which it is based) then watching Interior Semiotics will surely do the trick.

I intend to use the video, at the bottom of this post, as an example of the consequences that accompany an endemic flaw in the current hipster mentality. It is worth briefly mentioning however, that the video also gives weight to a more serious critique of Post Modernism. A critique first raised by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont in Fashionable Nonsense. From wikipedia:
"The criticism of elements of postmodernism as sophism or obscurantism was played out in the Sokal Affair, where Alan Sokal, a physicist, delivered for publication an article about interpreting physics and mathematics in terms of postmodern theory, which he had deliberately written to mock postmodernist views on objectivity, determinism and the social construction of scientific truth. It was published by Social Text, a cultural studies journal active in the field of postmodernism. Sokal arranged for the simultaneous publication of another article describing the former as a successful experiment to see whether a postmodernist journal would publish it, triggering an academic scandal. Sokal later published a book with Jean Bricmont called Intellectual Impostures, which expands upon his criticism of postmodernism."
Essentially, the postmodern rejection of objectivity creates absurdity. Beneath the academic patina, and esoteric language there is exactly nothing. It is the same gut feeling that one has on encountering certain examples of modern/abstract art. One is assured that the paint splattered canvas holds some deep important meaning, but what that meaning might be, no one can say. The suspicion develops that it is all a ruse, that it is just a way for 'artists' to make money, and bourgeoisie couples to have something on their wall to impress their friends at dinner parties. Anyway, not to be distracted: 

It might be an age-old cliché to lament that one's subculture is being overridden by 'mainstream' imposters. Everyone has had the experience of namedropping a band only to encounter the riposte: "Oh, yeah, Sonic Youth... They're OK, I guess...I listened to them ages ago... but have you heard of [insert obscure band here]?" Obnoxious sneer included. And yes, if something is good, then why shouldn't more people like it? Isn't it good that these people that provide us with such wonderful cultural contributions are getting due acknowledgement?

But something is seriously wrong. You see, the problem is derived from why subcultures exist in the first place. If you are an intelligent, erudite individual with good taste in art, music and literature, you are part of a minority. You are the avian equivalent of a peacock in a turkey farm. Now, you don't want to have to invest time and energy in getting to know every person you meet in the hopes that you stumble across someone like you. This situation gives rise to subcultures. The Indie/Hipster subculture is broadly based around the qualities I just identified, (intelligence, culture, etc) though of course there are other subcultures each based on unique criteria. Essentially people subconsciously adopt an implicit style, expressed primarily through fashion, in order to make the task of meeting like minded people easier. 

When a subculture becomes popular, this whole system gets turned upside down. Suddenly you have turkeys covering themselves in peacock feathers left, right and centre, until the poor peacocks don't know what's going on. The 'mainstream' never appropriates things for the right reasons. If they were even capable of identifying the right reasons they wouldn't be mainstream. Suddenly you have hoards of people running round in Ray Bans and tight jeans trying their very hardest to listen to obscure music and appear 'deep' and 'poetic.' Why? Not because they see any intrinsic worth in any of it. Not even because they like music or poetry. They do it merely because the fickle tide of fashion has shifted, and suddenly it is 'cool.' If tomorrow it suddenly became 'cool' to be a bogan, these same vapid idiots would all be running around with mullets and black singlets, and AC DC's album sales would go through the roof. 

At the same time as the subculture is appropriated it is corrupted. As Hipster culture becomes increasingly 'cool' it becomes commercially viable. Enter major record labels. New bands go to great heights offering watered down, accessible imitations (Think Owl City, Postal Service). Older bands sell out (Think Kings of Leon [apparently Liam Gallagher thinks so too link here]). In amongst this chaos, the bona fide Hipster struggles to find his/her peers. Suddenly name dropping Modest Mouse or Neutral Milk Hotel is no longer a secret handshake. Suddenly you don't feel quite so special walking down the street with your skinny jeans and satchel bag. 

The subculture's popularity leads to increased competition. Parties become increasingly unpleasant as people try and name drop increasingly obscure bands. You can no longer get away with referencing Bansky to show off your artistic awareness. And in amongst all this confusion, this striving for obscurity, a valuable truth is lost:

That's right. If only twenty people in the world have heard of something, there is a high chance that the reason why is because it sucks. That little band that plays in Tennessee skin bars that you heard on Myspace and decided to wank on about on Saturday night is probably not as good as The Clash. Shit, Lady GaGa is probably better. So stick that condescending smirk where the sun don't shine. 

Which brings me in a roundabout way to the video I wanted to comment on. Interior Semiotics. This is a clear example of how Hipsters these days are willing to eat up any bullshit that you feed them. And a pretty convincing argument towards not sending your kids to art school while we're at it. Watch the whole video, or skip to the last two minutes where the magic happens. Note how seriously the 'performance' is taken, and the applause received. I should mention that this video has mildly distasteful content. 

Seriously, it's like the Emperor with no clothes! If you are vaguely intrigued as to what this art school 'performance' is supposedly about, then go here


The combination of exams, essays, late night, poor food, ill health, too many weekends spent drunk in the early hours, in short; the malaise of student life, has brought me down recently. 

You know your stress levels are right up there when escape is no longer possible via sleep, and you wake up three hours before you should, head buzzing with all the various 'To do's' and 'Should have done's.'

Right now I feel sorely tempted to book a one way ticket to Mexico or somewhere and live out the rest of my days as an illegal immigrant on some idyllic beach in a glorious haze of sun, cigarettes and cheap wine...

Pipe dreams aside, I read a poem today that I identified with far more than I probably would if I had chanced upon it a week ago. No indie cool points for me on this discovery, for it is widely known, but it sums things up quite nicely so I'm posting it in true livejournal style. Mood: apathetic et cet, et cet. 


Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning. 

Perhaps a little hyperbolic in terms of my current situation. Yes, I have a lot of work to do. But I'm sitting inside, its warm, I've got a good wine, and a Rachmaninoff concerto to accompany me. So it's not all bad. 

Monday, August 16, 2010


In lieu of an original post, here is a brilliant article about the music industry written by Steve Albini (Big Black/Shellac but more widely known for producing Nirvana's In Utero). This was written in the early 90's, so the figures are dated, but it is otherwise very relevant:

"Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit. I imagine these people, some of them good friends, some of them barely acquaintances, at one end of this trench. I also imagine a faceless industry lackey at the other end holding a fountain pen and a contract waiting to be signed. Nobody can see what's printed on the contract. It's too far away, and besides, the shit stench is making everybody's eyes water. The lackey shouts to everybody that the first one to swim the trench gets to sign the contract. Everybody dives in the trench and they struggle furiously to get to the other end. Two people arrive simultaneously and begin wrestling furiously, clawing each other and dunking each other under the shit. Eventually, one of them capitulates, and there's only one contestant left. He reaches for the pen, but the Lackey says "Actually, I think you need a little more development. Swim again, please. Backstroke". And he does of course.

Every major label involved in the hunt for new bands now has on staff a high-profile point man, an "A & R" rep who can present a comfortable face to any prospective band. The initials stand for "Artist and Repertoire." because historically, the A & R staff would select artists to record music that they had also selected, out of an available pool of each. This is still the case, though not openly. These guys are universally young [about the same age as the bands being wooed], and nowadays they always have some obvious underground rock credibility flag they can wave.

Lyle Preslar, former guitarist for Minor Threat, is one of them. Terry Tolkin, former NY independent booking agent and assistant manager at Touch and Go is one of them. Al Smith, former soundman at CBGB is one of them. Mike Gitter, former editor of XXX fanzine and contributor to Rip, Kerrang and other lowbrow rags is one of them. Many of the annoying turds who used to staff college radio stations are in their ranks as well. There are several reasons A & R scouts are always young. The explanation usually copped-to is that the scout will be "hip to the current musical "scene." A more important reason is that the bands will intuitively trust someone they think is a peer, and who speaks fondly of the same formative rock and roll experiences. The A & R person is the first person to make contact with the band, and as such is the first person to promise them the moon. Who better to promise them the moon than an idealistic young turk who expects to be calling the shots in a few years, and who has had no previous experience with a big record company. Hell, he's as naive as the band he's duping. When he tells them no one will interfere in their creative process, he probably even believes it. When he sits down with the band for the first time, over a plate of angel hair pasta, he can tell them with all sincerity that when they sign with company X, they're really signing with him and he's on their side. Remember that great gig I saw you at in '85? Didn't we have a blast. By now all rock bands are wise enough to be suspicious of music industry scum. There is a pervasive caricature in popular culture of a portly, middle aged ex-hipster talking a mile-a-minute, using outdated jargon and calling everybody "baby." After meeting "their" A & R guy, the band will say to themselves and everyone else, "He's not like a record company guy at all! He's like one of us." And they will be right. That's one of the reasons he was hired.

These A & R guys are not allowed to write contracts. What they do is present the band with a letter of intent, or "deal memo," which loosely states some terms, and affirms that the band will sign with the label once a contract has been agreed on. The spookiest thing about this harmless sounding little memo, is that it is, for all legal purposes, a binding document. That is, once the band signs it, they are under obligation to conclude a deal with the label. If the label presents them with a contract that the band don't want to sign, all the label has to do is wait. There are a hundred other bands willing to sign the exact same contract, so the label is in a position of strength. These letters never have any terms of expiration, so the band remain bound by the deal memo until a contract is signed, no matter how long that takes. The band cannot sign to another laborer or even put out its own material unless they are released from their agreement, which never happens. Make no mistake about it: once a band has signed a letter of intent, they will either eventually sign a contract that suits the label or they will be destroyed.

One of my favorite bands was held hostage for the better part of two years by a slick young "He's not like a label guy at all," A & R rep, on the basis of such a deal memo. He had failed to come through on any of his promises [something he did with similar effect to another well-known band], and so the band wanted out. Another label expressed interest, but when the A & R man was asked to release the band, he said he would need money or points, or possibly both, before he would consider it. The new label was afraid the price would be too dear, and they said no thanks. On the cusp of making their signature album, an excellent band, humiliated, broke up from the stress and the many months of inactivity. There's this band. They're pretty ordinary, but they're also pretty good, so they've attracted some attention. They're signed to a moderate-sized "independent" label owned by a distribution company, and they have another two albums owed to the label. They're a little ambitious. They'd like to get signed by a major label so they can have some security you know, get some good equipment, tour in a proper tour bus -- nothing fancy, just a little reward for all the hard work. To that end, they got a manager. He knows some of the label guys, and he can shop their next project to all the right people. He takes his cut, sure, but it's only 15%, and if he can get them signed then it's money well spent. Anyways, it doesn't cost them anything if it doesn't work. 15% of nothing isn't much! One day an A & R scout calls them, says he's 'been following them for a while now, and when their manager mentioned them to him, it just "clicked." Would they like to meet with him about the possibility of working out a deal with his label? Wow. Big Break time. They meet the guy, and y'know what -- he's not what they expected from a label guy. He's young and dresses pretty much like the band does. He knows all their favorite bands. He's like one of them. He tells them he wants to go to bat for them, to try to get them everything they want. He says anything is possible with the right attitude.

They conclude the evening by taking home a copy of a deal memo they wrote out and signed on the spot. The A & R guy was full of great ideas, even talked about using a name producer. Butch Vig is out of the question-he wants 100 g's and three points, but they can get Don Fleming for $30,000 plus three points. Even that's a little steep, so maybe they'll go with that guy who used to be in David Letterman's band. He only wants three points. Or they can have just anybody record it (like Warton Tiers, maybe-- cost you 5 or 7 grand) and have Andy Wallace remix it for 4 grand a track plus 2 points. It was a lot to think about. Well, they like this guy and they trust him. Besides, they already signed the deal memo. He must have been serious about wanting them to sign. They break the news to their current label, and the label manager says he wants them to succeed, so they have his blessing. He will need to be compensated, of course, for the remaining albums left on their contract, but he'll work it out with the label himself.

Sub Pop made millions from selling off Nirvana, and Twin Tone hasn't done bad either: 50 grand for the Babes and 60 grand for the Poster Children-- without having to sell a single additional record. It'll be something modest. The new label doesn't mind, so long as it's recoupable out of royalties. Well, they get the final contract, and it's not quite what they expected. They figure it's better to be safe than sorry and they turn it over to a lawyer--one who says he's experienced in entertainment law and he hammers out a few bugs. They're still not sure about it, but the lawyer says he's seen a lot of contracts, and theirs is pretty good. They'll be great royalty: 13% [less a 1O% packaging deduction]. Wasn't it Buffalo Tom that were only getting 12% less 10? Whatever. The old label only wants 50 grand, an no points. Hell, Sub Pop got 3 points when they let Nirvana go. They're signed for four years, with options on each year, for a total of over a million dollars! That's a lot of money in any man's English. The first year's advance alone is $250,000. Just think about it, a quarter million, just for being in a rock band! Their manager thinks it's a great deal, especially the large advance. Besides, he knows a publishing company that will take the band on if they get signed, and even give them an advance of 20 grand, so they'll be making that money too. The manager says publishing is pretty mysterious, and nobody really knows where all the money comes from, but the lawyer can look that contract over too. Hell, it's free money. Their booking agent is excited about the band signing to a major. He says they can maybe average $1,000 or $2,000 a night from now on. That's enough to justify a five week tour, and with tour support, they can use a proper crew, buy some good equipment and even get a tour bus! Buses are pretty expensive, but if you figure in the price of a hotel room for everybody In the band and crew, they're actually about the same cost. Some bands like Therapy? and Sloan and Stereolab use buses on their tours even when they're getting paid only a couple hundred bucks a night, and this tour should earn at least a grand or two every night. It'll be worth it. The band will be more comfortable and will play better.

The agent says a band on a major label can get a merchandising company to pay them an advance on T-shirt sales! ridiculous! There's a gold mine here! The lawyer Should look over the merchandising contract, just to be safe. They get drunk at the signing party. Polaroids are taken and everybody looks thrilled. The label picked them up in a limo. They decided to go with the producer who used to be in Letterman's band. He had these technicians come in and tune the drums for them and tweak their amps and guitars. He had a guy bring in a slew of expensive old "vintage" microphones. Boy, were they "warm." He even had a guy come in and check the phase of all the equipment in the control room! Boy, was he professional. He used a bunch of equipment on them and by the end of it, they all agreed that it sounded very "punchy," yet "warm." All that hard work paid off. With the help of a video, the album went like hotcakes! They sold a quarter million copies! Here is the math that will explain just how fucked they are: These figures are representative of amounts that appear in record contracts daily. There's no need to skew the figures to make the scenario look bad, since real-life examples more than abound. income is bold and underlined, expenses are not.

Advance:$ 250,000
Manager's cut:$ 37,500
Legal fees:$ 10,000
Recording Budget:$ 150,000
Producer's advance:$ 50,000
Studio fee:$ 52,500
Drum Amp, Mic and Phase "Doctors":$ 3,000
Recording tape:$ 8,000
Equipment rental:$ 5,000
Cartage and Transportation:$ 5,000
Lodgings while in studio:$ 10,000
Catering:$ 3,000
Mastering:$ 10,000
Tape copies, reference CDs, shipping tapes, misc. expenses:$ 2,000
Video budget:$ 30,000
Cameras:$ 8,000
Crew:$ 5,000
Processing and transfers:$ 3,000
Off-line:$ 2,000
On-line editing:$ 3,000
Catering:$ 1,000
Stage and construction:$ 3,000
Copies, couriers, transportation:$ 2,000
Director's fee:$ 3,000
Album Artwork:$ 5,000
Promotional photo shoot and duplication:$ 2,000
Band fund:$ 15,000
New fancy professional drum kit:$ 5,000
New fancy professional guitars [2]:$ 3,000
New fancy professional guitar amp rigs [2]:$ 4,000
New fancy potato-shaped bass guitar:$ 1,000
New fancy rack of lights bass amp:$ 1,000
Rehearsal space rental:$ 500
Big blowout party for their friends:$ 500
Tour expense [5 weeks]:$ 50,875
Bus:$ 25,000
Crew [3]:$ 7,500
Food and per diems:$ 7,875
Fuel:$ 3,000
Consumable supplies:$ 3,500
Wardrobe:$ 1,000
Promotion:$ 3,000
Tour gross income:$ 50,000
Agent's cut:$ 7,500
Manager's cut:$ 7,500
Merchandising advance:$ 20,000
Manager's cut:$ 3,000
Lawyer's fee:$ 1,000
Publishing advance:$ 20,000
Manager's cut:$ 3,000
Lawyer's fee:$ 1,000
Record sales:250,000 @ $12 =
Gross retail revenue Royalty:[13% of 90% of retail]:
$ 351,000
Less advance:$ 250,000
Producer's points:[3% less $50,000 advance]:
$ 40,000
Promotional budget:$ 25,000
Recoupable buyout from previous label:$ 50,000
Net royalty:$ -14,000

Record company income:
Record wholesale price:$6.50 x 250,000 =
$1,625,000 gross income
Artist Royalties:$ 351,000
Deficit from royalties:$ 14,000
Manufacturing, packaging and distribution:@ $2.20 per record: $ 550,000
Gross profit:$ 7l0,000

The Balance Sheet: This is how much each player got paid at the end of the game.
Record company:$ 710,000
Producer:$ 90,000
Manager:$ 51,000
Studio:$ 52,500
Previous label:$ 50,000
Agent:$ 7,500
Lawyer:$ 12,000
Band member net income each:$ 4,031.25

The band is now 1/4 of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month. The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never "recouped," the band will have no leverage, and will oblige. The next tour will be about the same, except the merchandising advance will have already been paid, and the band, strangely enough, won't have earned any royalties from their T-shirts yet. Maybe the T-shirt guys have figured out how to count money like record company guys. Some of your friends are probably already this fucked." - Steve Albini.