Musings and Eats with Mikey

Musing #58
November 7, 2010, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Comedy, Music, Musing, View

New Faces, Same System

So another election has come and gone and the results tell us that we continue to be a nation “divided”. Despite what the media tells about how polarized we are, these are broad generalizations based on inaccurate statistics. We must remember that the only votes that are counted, are those of people who showed up to vote. It has been reported that voter turnout for Tuesday’s election was around 42% of those registered to vote (up from the 2006 midterm election). Basically what the results “say” about this country is based on what 42% of registered voters say. This is less than half of people registered to vote, and none of the people who are not registered to vote. Yet these numbers are often the basis for what goes on politically in this country.

I take two things away from this notion. The first is that the results of an election are a terrible (and inaccurate) gauge of how people actually feel about what is going on in the country. If the majority of people are not even compelled enough to go out and vote one way or the other, isn’t more logical to conclude the majority of people are pretty okay with how things are going? The media likes to call the results of this election a mandate for the right, yet all this election really said was the “independents” (probably more accurately described as “centrists”) decided to change to the other party (the way the seem to do every two years). For this reason, I don’t appreciate the media trying to tell me that this country is angry and thirsty for “change”, because the reality of it is that party lines remain the same and only the few (in a relative sense) people in the middle voted for something different (which begs the question, do independents have no patients for change? but that is a whole other topic). The second thing I take from the 42% statistic is that we are a pathetic group of voters. Is it that difficult to go out there and pull the lever? I mean sure I don’t know everything about everything that is on the ballot, but there is no rule that says you have to vote on everything. You should just go out there and vote for those things that are in your interest. I mean look at Prop. 19 in CA. Almost every young person you asked about it was totally for it, yet it lost 46%-54%. Only 11% of the youth vote actually voted; that is pathetic. it would have easily passed if people actually took the time to vote. Now I understand that people may have their reasons for not voting, but if you want to live in a free society, you have a responsibility to that society to be engaged at least at a minimal level. That minimal level is voting and if you don’t vote, I don’t think you have much room to be complaining about whats going on in this country. Now, I don’t like to wax on about politics, but the bottom line is that if everyone actually went out and voted, this country could be a very different place (also I continue to be amazed that the lessons I learned from the book How to Lie with Statistics seem to constantly be relevant). As for what happens now, most likely we will experience a lot of grid lock in the Congress and not a lot is going to get done for the next two years. Also, a lot of tax payer money will be wasted on things like trying to find reasons to impeach Obama and trying to repeal the Health Care Act. In all likelihood, the Republicans will end up looking like idiots again and Obama will be reelected in a landslide. But who knows, it could go completely the opposite way and the Republicans could save this country (though this scenario seems very unlikely). The one thing that did give me hope was Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Though it didn’t come down hard on one side or the other, it showed that there is a middle road and that there are a lot people out there who are united (not divided) and want rational thinking in politics, Washington, and the media.

I just watched Kayne West‘s short film Runaway and I really liked it. It was very over-the-top and ridiculous, but at the same time it was ambitious and felt exactly like what Kayne is all about. It seemed very influenced by Fellini and Kubrick, and although Kayne’s acting is pretty bad, in a way it makes the whole thing even better. Anyway, I love the fact that he just went for it and I think it came out great; it seems like it will be a great companion piece to his forth coming album. You can check it out below:

Also, Conan is returning to TV this week on TBS and it should be good. I’ll be glad to see him back on the air. I really like this promo, I think it’s pretty rad:

Soundtrack: Strike Anywhere – I’m Your Opposite Number (off Iron Front)


View #12
September 17, 2010, 11:17 am
Filed under: Music, Musing, View | Tags: , ,

The Future of the Music Industry … They Still Don’t Get It

This morning I read an article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone written by U2‘s manager Paul McGuiness titled “How to Save the Music Business”. Though McGuiness purposed some interesting solutions to declining record sales (paid subscription coupled with ISP’s giving up some profits), I was annoyed by the reoccurring theme that I see from the people in the music business like McGuiness (people in the positions with power); their assessment of the industry seems off base and in 2010 they still don’t get it.

At this point most people know the basic claim: declining record sales are due to illegal downloads. In my opinion, this is a grand overstatement of the problem. What the dinosaurs in the industry fail to admit (or possibly it’s a failure to make the distinction) is that it is the digital revolution that has brought declining record sales, not illegal downloads. To clarify, these are not one in the same. What the digital revolution has brought us is the return to the singles based economy (from the very profitable album based economy). In the early days of rock n’ roll we had a singles based economy. Singles were cut to tape and then pressed on 7″ vinyl records. Those records were played on the radio and that is what people wanted. When the album was introduced, the single continued to reign supreme. As technology developed with the invent of the 8-track, cassette, and compact disc, along with changing consumer tastes, we moved from the singles based economy to an album based economy; forcing consumers to buy the album if they wanted the single. The album based economy was not a bad thing at first, as full length albums often contained many good songs that were not the singles and consumers also saw the artistic merit in a long play record (the LP). Over time though, record companies became content releasing albums that were terrible, but had a single that could sell the entire record. The only way to get the single was to buy the entire record (though singles were still released, by the 90’s it was a lot more rare). This was a windfall for record labels; get a couple of good singles and who cares if the rest of the album is crap, they were making 10 times the amount they would make if they just sold the single by itself. As a result many consumers got burned by paying for full albums and getting only one or two good songs, and in the 90’s, when this process had peaked, consumer confidence in the record industry dropped to an all time low. Then the digital revolution comes along around the turn of the century. People were now album to download songs on their computer (though not at cd quality, the convenience was great). At first there were a lot of illegal downloads, but that gave way to the industry monetizing (though they were a bit slow to get on board) the digital revolution with things like iTunes and Amazon Mp3. Suddenly people were again able to cherry pick the songs they wanted to purchase off a record instead of purchasing the entire album. Very quickly we had moved back to the singles based economy, and for the casual music consumer that was fine; for the most part their interest doesn’t go beyond the single (or the one song they heard somewhere that peaked their interest). For the record industry this was a devastating loss; now they were only making $1 for the single, when they used to be able to charge $12 for the album (which you had to buy to get that single). Quickly the record industry blamed the illegal downloads, using the term as scape goat to their declining sales. This has now continued for essential a decade and they are still throwing out numbers like 95% of music downloads are illegal, and industry earnings from 2004-2009 dropped from $25 billion a year to $16 billion a year.

Now I have a couple of points to make about these numbers. First, the idea that 95% of music downloads are illegal is a completely skewed statistic. Though technically it could be true that 95% of music downloads are illegal (who knows how exactly they got that number), the number does not represent a 95% loss in earnings in music downloads. Anyone who has a real sense of what goes on with people who download a lot of music illegally knows that people who download music illegally download way more music then they would have ever consumed if they actually had to pay for the music; there is a lot more willingness to give things you are marginally interested a listen when it is free. This means that if it wasn’t for the ability to download the music for free, they would not have purchased it. This is not a loss sale. The consumer never would have purchased the music in the first place, yet the industry assumes that everyone that downloads an album is a loss sale (because of course they would have paid for the album if they had to). My other point is, sure earnings are down from what they used to be, but that is because you no longer have a product people want. You used to be able to sell people on the entire album, but now you are only selling them on a single. You are now only selling 1/12 of what you used to, so of course you are going to have declining sales. Like any other business, if you are selling less product, because most of your product is stuff people don’t want, you are going to see a loss in earnings. Of course there are other things to consider as well (like the rise in consumption of products like dvds, video games, vod, etc. cuts into people’s entertainment spending budgets) but those are the talking points that really bug me.

Now I’m not sitting here writing this in support of illegal downloading. I am a music consumer who does in fact buy all my music and I can’t even remember when it was last that I downloaded something illegally (maybe it was during the Kazaa era). It actually seems like these days I am buying more music then ever before, probably on average an album every week. I think that copyrights are important and artists should be protected. I also think that people should pay for music for the bands they love and want to support, because if the bands can’t make a living, they will stop making music. This is really where my issue with the music executives comes from and what I am referring to when I say that “they” just don’t get it (everything else was just by way of background).  What they don’t get is that this idea that artist actually make money off of record sales for the most part has always been untrue, which is ironic because they are the insiders that make sure that artist are well underpaid for their record sales. The reality of it is that unless you have made it to super star levels like U2 or Bruce Springsteen, over 90% of the money earned on a record typically goes to the record label and their overhead. Typical deals in industry give artist something ridiculous like (maybe) 10% royalties, but that is of course only paid out after the record label has been paid back on all the money spent on the record. The dirty little secret of the record industry is that the record label is essentially giving bands loans, like a bank, to record and promote the record. Unlike a bank loan though, the band doesn’t see any money in their pocket till the loan is paid back, and then on top of that they are paying 90% interest on the original loan that has already been paid off! This was the old model, and this made the record industry very profitable. Smaller artist saw very little money from their record sales and survived off the money they made from touring, merchandising, and licensing. Now that record labels are not making money selling records they have tried to get a piece artist’s touring, merchandising, and licensing (the dreaded 360 deal) to stay alive. The artists who give in and sign away pieces of these revenue streams are surely hurting right now, but artist who don’t let the labels touch their other earnings have likely not seen huge losses in earnings. In fact the live music business is booming (of course there have been a few dips here and there because of the recession) and bands that have found a following are doing well.

So what is my purposed solution to the problem? Let old dogs die. With the advent of the internet and the decline in the cost of recording, the price to make an album and get it to people has gone way down and it is much easier to do yourself. Bands can now afford to professionally record albums themselves using money they have made from touring and merchandising. So what is the need of the major labels anymore? Well for one, they are real good at marketing albums. So the biggest hurdle for bands if labels no longer existed would be having the cash to pay marketing firms to do the same thing that labels have been doing for decades (fairly well). But this is what any small business has to do (raise capital and spend money on marketing) and any serious artist or band is a small business (though it may not appear that way from the consumer’s perspective). Essentially, if bands run themselves on a small business model, they can create a career that is profitable and sustainable. Now I know some bands just want to be “creative” and not get involved in the business side of things, but lets get real, in 2010 if you want to make a career of this, you need some business savvy. If you don’t have it, at least find someone to manage the band that does. There are many ways to run a band without a label, and it is all possible these days; record labels are no longer needed, at least in the capacity they have existed in the past. The bottom line is, in the modern music industry the money to be made is from everything but the actual recorded album. The album, like the music video, is now just a promotional tool to get people to spend money by coming out to see a live performance and buying a t-shirt. Without the need to make money on album sales (to repay the label) there is no need for the record labels. The ones who are really getting hurt in this shifting paradigm are the songwriters who write material for others and don’t tour. They lived mostly off record sales and royalties. Now they will have to survive mostly on licensing their music. Despite the simplicity of this idea, the real challenge these days is breaking through a market, one that is cluttered and over-saturated, just to be heard; but that is a whole other issue.

What people like McGuinness and other record executives don’t get is that labels are obsolete in the digital age. Like in any other industry, when sectors of an industry can be replaced by cheaper and more efficient methods, those working in the sector become useless and often lose their jobs. While revenues have most certainly dropped for record companies, the music industry as a whole is doing just fine. Records can be created without the help of labels and in the end can turn more profits for the individuals making them without relying on the traditional sale of those records. Music is more popular then ever and there is still plenty of money to be made (in many ways). So next time you hear a record executive complaining about lost sales, it is important to think about the industry as a whole.

Soundtrack: NOFX – Dinosaurs Will Die (live)

View #11
August 20, 2010, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Musing, View

Social Networkly Awkward

Lately I have been thinking a lot about proper social network etiquette. Social networking is a main stay in life these days, and yet I don’t feel like I have a handle on the appropriate and proper etiquette of social networking.  True it has only been around six or seven years (it started with Friendster back in 2003, right?) but this is something created by my generation (I think Zuckerberg is my age) so it should come more naturally, it is made for me and my peers. I don’t feel like I’m socially awkward (at least not too much) in real life, but sometimes I feel like I am social networkly awkward.

At this point you may be wondering what the hell I am actually talking about. Well with the advent of so many “social networks” I feel it is difficult to know when it is appropriate to friend someone ( and on which network) and what exactly is crossing the line when posting on someone’s page. For example, say you meet someone at a party and you make small talk with them (not someone you have any romantic interest in, but you had a good conversation). They are a friend of your friend, but not really your friend, you’ve only met them this one time. Is it then appropriate to friend them on Facebook? Maybe you should just follow them on Twitter (because that is less intrusive)? Maybe it is the reverse. What level of friendship do you need to have with a person before “connecting” with them on a social network? Personally I have stuck with the method of only friending people on Facebook that have actually met in real life. But again, you friend someone you have only met once and then never speak to them again, they still see your status updates and pictures. At what point is it then okay to “unfriend” these people. Do you have to unfriend them or should you expect them to unfriend you? At least with Twitter anyone can follow you without your permission, so you should have an some expectation that anyone can see what you are writing. I mean there needs to be some common sense here, but where is the line and when do you become the weirdo (or borderline predator)? Another example is a friend wanted to set me up with one of her friends, so she said go ahead and friend her on Facebook. I told that it would be weird and creepy move to friend someone I have never met. She insisted that it would not be weird or creepy, that she had mentioned me to her friend, so against my better judgment I sent out that friend request. Rejected. Of course it was, it was a weird move. Colossal Fail!

But the real question is where do we draw the line? I think everyone has been drawing their own lines in regards to what is appropriate for the last few years. Unfortunately there is no standard line (or at least if there is one, I am not aware of it) so it is difficult to tell if you have crossed someone’s line. Social networking is about connecting with friends and family, but it is also about making connections for your professional and work life. Sometimes you don’t want those lives to collide. Other times you don’t want to be over-imposing by requesting to be a friend with some you don’t really know, but have talked to once or twice through a friend (yet you think there may be potential for a friendship or work connection). I for one don’t know where the lines are drawn. Maybe someone will write an article laying out some clear cut rules, until then I will remain social networkly awkward.

Soundtrack: the Impossibles – Connecticut (live)

View #10
April 16, 2010, 9:52 pm
Filed under: View

Lets Shoot the Moon

Yesterday (April 15) President Obama gave a speech to NASA outlining the future of the space program. I know some people are disappointed at the cancellation of the Constellation program, but I found his speech interesting and found the new direction of NASA very exciting. Essentially, instead of spending money to build new spaceships to send people back to the moon (and beyond), NASA will shift its focus toward creating new technologies. These new technologies will focus on new rockets and jet propulsion systems for eventually traveling deeper into space, as well as other technologies that will further space exploration (such as a new space telescope and a rescue shuttle). Amongst Obama’s many deadlines were maned missions to deep space (to land on an asteroid) in the mid 2020’s and landing on Mars by the mid 2030’s. These goals are ambitious and are reminiscent of President Kennedy’s goals when he first said we would land on the moon (especially reminiscent is the challenge). Although I can see the usefulness of another mission to the moon, because if we start building a base on the moon it could be a good launching pad for further space travel, the thing that is really holding us back in deep space travel is our current propulsion systems. I am excited about Obama’s commitment to funding the creation of new propulsion systems; they could be the key to deep space exploration, which in turn can hold many benefits for the future of mankind. And I mean honestly, as kids we watched movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and they were traveling deep into space. It is 2010 and we are nowhere near the technology in that movie, what gives? Given this refocusing of NASA (on the big picture of space exploration), I am hopeful to at least see some of the dreams of my childhood (regarding outer space) becoming realities in my life time. And for those who say that the space program is a waste of taxpayer’s money, it is simply not true, as Obama points out, the space program fuels the large aerospace industry and creates a lot of jobs (and that is not even mentioning the intellectual benefits to society). Here is the entire speech if you are interested in seeing what was said:

Soundtrack: David Bowie – Life on Mars (live)

View #9
April 12, 2010, 4:54 pm
Filed under: View

Coco is Back!

Today Conan O’Brien announced that he would return to late-night television this fall (presumably November). This announcement came as both interesting and exciting news. Most people had expected Conan to return on Fox (where he could go up against Leno and Letterman and where Fox could finally be competitive in the late night game) but instead he has opted to return on cable channel TBS (word was that they were running into a lot of logistical problems with Fox‘s offer). Though Conan will not face off directly with the other network late night shows, he will find plenty of competition with his buddies at the Daily Show and the Colbert Report (he is reported to be given the 11pm-midnight slot). This is interesting because it will create a lot more competition in the cable television late-night talk show game (right now the Daily Show and Colbert Report dominate the ratings). This also gives TBS a chance to bring its original programing to the next level. As for Conan, cable gives him the opportunity to get back to the core of what he does best without the network getting too involved (cause lets be honest, when he was doing Late Night it was on so late that the network let him do whatever he wanted, but with the Tonight Show he was somewhat restrained). The downside though is that TBS viewership is nowhere near that of network television. Further, this move could also make Conan be viewed as less “legitimate” than the other late night talk show host, because the prestige of network television will be gone. Regardless, I think the opportunities outweigh the downsides and feel like this is a big step for cable television in its continued effort to peel away the dominance of network television, as well as a good move for Conan. I will gladly follow Conan to TBS and I will be looking forward to his return this fall.

Coco celebrates St. Patrick’s day in Chinatown:

View #8
April 11, 2010, 1:43 pm
Filed under: Music, View

That’s Not Entertainment

After nearly 26 years of age, and a long time love of music, I still can’t fully understand the mainstream popularity of things like Justin Bieber. As I get older I’ve become pretty oblivious to what is popular with kids, say, 15 years and younger, but somethings become so pervasive in mainstream culture (such as High School Musical) that I am at least aware of their existence, despite not considering them anything more than kiddie fodder. So last night I was watching some of Saturday Night Live and the newly crowned king of teen pop, Justin Bieber, was the musical guest. All I could think is “how is this kid the musical guest on SNL?”; sure he can sing a little, but he looks like he is 12 years old and sings like he is still waiting for his balls to drop. Now I understand that he may have an appeal to a small (but lucrative) demographic of 10-13 year old girls, but why is he being propped up on late night television? His demographic is not of the age to be staying up late enough to see SNL, and it’s hard to say that adults can relate to his pre-teen pop songs. Further, why am I hearing so much about him in the media? Does anyone over the age of 13 actually enjoy the sound of mediocre pop sung by a child? I keep hearing the words “teen popstar” and “Bieber fever” being thrown around. How can something that only appeals to an age range of 4 years (pre-teens, not even teens) really be garnering this kind of attention? Seeing him force fed into my media (where he is seemingly out of place) is not going to convince me that I should buy his products or that he is anything more than a child. His popularity needs to remain isolated to the age group in which he resides and people need to leave it at that. If your an adult you shouldn’t care about him unless your kid is listening to his music (and even then you should only care enough to steer them away from the mediocrity of his pop music). Now I’m not saying that it is a bad thing to have child stars; its probably good that kids have people in the media that are their age and that they can relate to. What I am saying is that it should be kept isolated as the kids entertainment it is and not brought into the arena of adult mainstream entertainment, like it is something more than kids entertainment. As for SNL, you used to be so cutting edge, and although you aren’t as good as you used to be, you also aren’t the Disney channel, so start acting your age.

Soundtrack: The Jam – In the City (live)

Musing #24
March 28, 2010, 7:36 pm
Filed under: Musing, View

Fun with Semantics

So last night was an interesting night to say the least. It consisted of essentially watching a four hour argument about the semantics of interpersonal relationships, and a few enlightening observations about bar behavior.

Without getting into specifics (because it’s really no one’s business and irrelevant to my point), my friend got into an argument because he called someone a “good” friend, while said friend thought she was a “close” friend. This got me thinking about language and how the differences in interpretation (and connotation) can lead to ridiculous arguments. This is no isolated incident either, I see these types of arguments happening all over the place. This leads me to the conclusion that people just need a better fundamental education in word usage and semantics (is that even the correct usage?). If people just had the correct understanding of the words they were using, then there wouldn’t be so much conflict (as well as a lot less miscommunication). As my friend put it last night, “they know how to play the game, they just misinterpreted the rules”. This situation also got me thinking about how Texas has been in the news a lot recently because certain omissions (like Thomas Jefferson and his involvement with the Declaration of Independence) they are making to history textbooks in public schools. Do they not realize that this will lead to people having totally different foundations of knowledge in this area of history? If people don’t have a correct understanding of history, this will probably lead to some conflicts (as well as perpetuate an attitude of misinformation being okay, which I would think is a bad thing). Is anyone else perturbed by this?

Anyway, I also made some enlightening observations while we were at the bar last night. This pretty drunk guy used the line “your boobs look nice” to break the ice with one of the girls there. He didn’t say it in a creepy way, but he didn’t say it in a joking around way either; he just said it in a drunk way. The shocking thing was that this worked. The girl chuckled and asked the dude his name. Really? This worked? This is what I should have been doing all these years?  I’m no prude, but honestly, do people have no dignity or self-respect anymore? I mean saying that is like one step away of breaking the ice with “do you want to fuck?”. If that is what these people are all about, more power to them, but the words of Holden Caulfield come to mind; most these people are just a bunch of “phonies”. Everyone is just putting on a show and not revealing anything real about themselves. There was also this guy there who was really drunk and dancing in front of a bunch of girls. The girls were loving watching this guy make a fool of himself, but I’m sure someone took him home despite this. I’m not entirely sure what my point is, but it seems to me like people’s (who are at bars at least) standards are really low and they are impressed by clowns who put on a show (just like little children).

In other news, I played some tennis with the FBRP crew today. I hadn’t played since I was like 12, but we had good fun; it was a beautiful day out. Also, there are rumors that seminal post-punk band Refused is getting back together to play some festivals in Europe. Their album The Shape of Punk to Come was ground breaking, totally unappreciated at the time of it’s release (leading to the band’s demise), and truly did change the sound of punk. Here is the song “New Noise” from that album: