Category Archives: music biz

EYEBEAM OPEN STUDIOS

Eyebeam Open Studios, this Friday 3-6pm in the Chelsea space. I will present a cumbia research project I’m working on as one of Eyebeam’s resident artists this season. La Congona New Cumbia will culminate in a mixtape CD + bilingual poster, and be documented on our blog of the same name.

So feel free to drop by and see/say what’s up. A very diverse group of people will be showing their work-in-progress. For example: while I’m doing weird cumbia distribution/circulation mapping & hotwiring bootleg networks, Ted Southern, pictured below, is building honest-to-God astronaut gloves. (the last pair he designed outperformed NASA gloves on NASA’s own tests). Astronaut gloves!

Open Studios continue on Saturday, although I won’t be able to attend.

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BEST MUSIC WRITING – READING

housingworks

On Monday November 2 I’ll be participating in the BEST MUSIC WRITING 2009 launch party in New York City – a night of readings hosted by Greil Marcus. It goes down at SoHo’s fantastic Housing Works Cafe, 7pm. Afterparty at Puck Fair around the corner.

Along with yours truly, there’ll be eight other authors from the anthology reading, with a bit of audience Q&A thrown in. I like it when critics get out and speak their words in public.

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Monday, November 2, 2009, 7pm
Housing Works Cafe
126 Crosby Street, NY
Free (books to donate highly encouraged)

Featuring:
Greil Marcus, Guest Editor

and 2009 Contributors:
Josh Eells, Charles Talyors, Jace Clayton, Nick Sylvester, Carrie Brownstein, Jody Rosen, Paul Ford, William Hogeland, Jesse Serwer.

NEW YORKER FEST

festival2009 banner p465 crop

This Saturday I will speak at the New Yorker Festival, as part of a panel on The Music Biz: Remixing the Industry. It ain’t cheap, but with folks like lifelong industry uber-insider Danny Goldberg, Downtown Records boss Josh Deutsch, and bassist Melvin Gibbs in the mix, discussion should be lively.

I mean, there are only a few more years where we can actually sit down and talk about ‘the music biz’ with ‘record executives’ and such, so let’s make the most of it. And/or help the sick patient die faster.

R.I.P. OiNK.

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Later this month I’ll be performing in Copenhagen, and so many things are happening in November that my subconscious mind won’t let me think about it yet.

BEST MUSIC WRITING 2009

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I’m pleased to announce that my essay Confessions of a DJ, originally published in n+1, has been selected for inclusion in Best Music Writing 2009! It’s a honor to be part of the Da Capo series, especially on their 10th anniversary, with guest editor Greil Marcus.

The anthology is floating around some bookstores now, and will be everywhere next week.

Greil Marcus surreally misquotes my piece in his introduction: “I’ve died in more than two dozen countries…” (La petit mort? I’m not dead yet.) But apart from that unusual typo, Best Music Writing 2009 contains a spread of fascinating, varied writing.

It’s easy to fall prey to online narrowcasting, with the result being that you only read reviewers and blogs who cover music you like. Anthologies crack things open a bit (read: I wouldn’t seek out a three thousand word essay on Jay Reatard, but there’s one here, so I’ll take a look). Many entries are short and sweet, like Aidin Vaziri’s hilarious opener, but it’s the longer pieces (like, cough, mine) which are particularly welcome in our era of dwindling word count and blog-optimized blurbs. (Not that I don’t like a good blog-optimized blurb; it’s simply a very different pleasure when someone dives deep into long-form prose, and when people do that online I’m usually too impatient or distracted to scroll down to the end.)

Books as a medium whose metanarrative, in 2009, is slow down?

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Slow down and listen. Bowed strings pinpoint a mood, amplify it, submerge us.

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A Broken Consort – The River (buyable)

from the album Crow Autumn Part Two, self-released as CD-r with lovely, attentive packaging.

A Broken Consort springs from Richard Skelton, whose music I cannot stop listening to, who maintains an infrequent diary on sound, art & the landscape.

CHARLES HOLGATE AND THE PUBLICITY GAME

This post originally went live on January 19th. Soonafter Charles Holgate called me up (for the 1st time!), requesting that I take it down for two reasons: 1. because I had mistakenly referred to him as an employee of Sarah Lockhart’s Ammunition dubstep conglomerate (rather than an independent publicist who works with them) and 2., because he wanted to ‘keep working the release’. Charles gave me a list of 9 “confirmed press” spots where it was to be reviewed, and told me to give him 2 weeks, during which time he would make good. He suggested that if I didn’t see proof of his work in that time, I could put the post back up. I gladly agreed.

At one point in the conversation, he said that Uproot had been received with apathy. I said “Fine! The UK is a weird market. But why can’t you produce any evidence, even a single email from a journalist in support of that story?” Charles’s response was incredible: he told me that each January he deletes all of his emails from the previous year. (akin to: the dog ate my homework)

Over the next few days, I was contacted by about half a dozen UK music writers, all saying some version of “I regularly get calls/emails from Charles and he never once mentioned Uproot .”

This confirmed my worst suspicions, but I still wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Instead of the 2 weeks he asked for, I’ve given him 7…

Unfortunately, the same process has repeated itself. I’ve sent Holgate multiple emails asking for any update on the “confirmed press” (if it was confirmed in mid-January, how come it’s not in print by mid-March?). I was repeatedly told by Charles that I’d get an update “tomorrow”.

After a few weeks of ‘tomorrow’ (well over the 2 week deadline he set for himself) and honoring our verbal agreement— here is the original post, edited to reflect his status as an independent publicist.

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I’d like to explain how Charles Holgate aka MC Nomad, an independent publicist best known for his work representing the Tempa/Rinse FM/FWD conglomerate, stole several thousand dollars — not from me, but from the artists I used on Uproot and the label it was released on. But before we get to that, we need to take a quick look at the publicity business.

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With all the talk about declining record sales and the near-terminal state of the music industry model as we knew it in the 90s, people rarely mention the role of publicists. Like live shows, the work of the publicists will endure even as CD sales plummet.

It’s possible – but highly difficult – to land record reviews in significant media outlets without a publicist acting as intermediary. Music PR fees vary widely – from $1000 to upwards of $5000 a month – and there’s usually a 2 month minimum. (You can, essentially, pay your way onto major TV appearances such as the David Letterman show. But those fees only make sense if you’ve got a decent product, massive fan base, great distribution, a tour to cross-promote, etc.)

That said, the work of a publicist is fairly hard to pin down. They talk to writers and editors – via email, phonecalls, drinks after work, bumping into them at shows, etc. Publicists get music writers hyped about the album, detailing its importance/awesomeness while suggesting ways it can be covered in the writer’s publication(s). They coordinate interviews. Publicists are sensitive to the marketability of any given release and tailor the campaign around that. Usually PR companies give the record label mailing address and the label does the physical mailout. One pays the publicists to follow up: “have you received the package? what did you think?…”

In a perfect world, a publicist is a cool person who helps translate the musician’s vision to the public. Their fees pays for themselves via increased CD sales, and everybody’s happy. This is often the case! In an imperfect world you get Holgate… wait, it almost never gets that bad. (More on this in a bit)

Hiring a professional publicist is a virtual necessity for any release’s visibility. But their work is intangible — How do you quantify buzz? And a publicist’s role in raising it? The only time I got reviewed in VIBE was with Gold Teeth Thief, a mix CD that was barely buyable. Lord knows I’ve never had a publicist or manager.

CHARLES HOLGATE: BAD AMMUNITION

Only three titles from my entire discography have been serviced by a publicity firm: Minesweeper Suite, Special Gunpowder, and now Uproot. For the recent CD, the label (the Agriculture) hired online PR in America (note: they didn’t do print media PR). In the UK, they hired a person named Charles Holgate. Dubstep fans may know Charles from his appearances as MC Nomad.

charles holgate mc nomad

[Tempa/FWD/RinseFM publicist Charles Holgate]

After he agreed to work for the Agriculture, Charles informed them that he was leaving Zzzonked (a PR firm) to go solo, focusing on publicity for dubstep’s cross-platform monopoly: Ammunition / FWD / Rinse FM. The first two are run by Sarah Lockhart. Ammunition is the parent company of several dubstep record labels: Tempa, Soulja, Road, Vehicle, Shelflife, Texture, Lifestyle, and Bingo. FWD has long been promoted as the dubstep night, offering the canonical dubstep experience. (Yes kids, the ‘underground’ London dubstep scene is a carefully controlled, heavily centralized machine). Rinse FM is a London pirate station. Charles and Sarah work with Rinse FM in its attempt to ‘go legit’ and enter the commercial radio market. Charles assured the Agriculture that everything would be fine despite his sudden move.

I met Charles Holgate aka MC Nomad in London this July. We ate pasta and discussed Uproot. He seemed professional. I went away content. Then Charles disappeared. After being paid-in-full for his services and and receiving the promo CDs, he simply stopped returning our emails. Complete silence. (During an album’s promotional campaign, it’s normal to have at least several email interchanges with the publicist each week).

I began to worry – not a single sign of interest had come from the UK. This is highly unusual. The UK boasts what is probably the world’s highest per-capita number of electronic music fans. (Perhaps it’s John Peel’s legacy.) I was getting interview requests from the Czech Republic, Italy, Mexico – yet nothing at all from the UK. In early October Charles Holgate broke his silence, promising a “full update” in a few days. Nothing arrived. In early November Charles Holgate promised a “full update” in a few days. Nothing arrived. No response to emails, no returning phone calls. It was obvious we’d been had, but I hoped he was honest enough to explain why, and either start working or give back the remaining copies.

I decided to give him a call on December 17th. Connection! Once he heard it was me, Charles began stammering… He told me he had received 100 copies (the label had sent him 200-300 CDs). He kept stammering. He promised to email an update by 1pm the next day. Nothing arrived. Two weeks ago Holgate sent us the long-awaited “update” (only 6 months late!) in which he took responsibility for the Pitchfork review and two mentions (not reviews) on UK websites that I’m in direct contact with. Charles blamed his lack of results on end-of-year holidays (remember, we started working with him in July). He apologized. He promised weekly updates. Since then, nothing.

charles holgate MC Nomad1

[MC Nomad on the mic]

I’m outing Charles Holgate because I don’t want this to happen to any other labels or artists. It’s more severe than the typical lazy publicist or unpromotable release. If he hadn’t been stammering like a fool when I asked him what was going on, I might’ve given Charles the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because this is the first time I’ve been dicked over in the music business. In general, the independent music scene is very self-supportive and honest and open-minded.

For the record, this was not my money spent — I mean stolen. I received a flat producer’s fee for Uproot– any profits made are to be split 50/50 between the record label and the artists on the mix.

So yes, a publicist who works with Ammunition/FWD/Rinse FM torpedoed the project in the UK. I have no reason to believe that Ammunition knew about Holgate’s activities; I mention Ammunition because most know him for his work representing them (and as MC Nomad on Rinse FM, etc). By snatching the label’s money and several hundred of its CDs in exchange for silence and inept lies, Charles Holgate has robbed the artists on Uproot and the label that was cool enough to release it in the first place (most labels hate mix CDs since the licensing is expensive and requires a mountain of paperwork).

Instead of UK publicity paying for itself via increased sales/visibility, there is a big black hole. ‘MC Nomad’ buried Uproot! (the irony is not lost on me.) Usually UK distros will send a few copies to key media sources, but since Charles Holgate was contracted to do just that, the distro didn’t perform their standard basic mail-out. Result: few or no UK media sources received the mix.

If you are in the UK, I suggest that you ask him for a copy. Charles Holgate should have several hundred Uproots occupying space in his London flat.

CONFESSIONS OF A DJ

…is the name of a piece of mine recently published in n+1. I mentioned this before – now there’s an excerpt online.

This issue also contains a nice Bolaño poem, yet another anxious-to-crown Bolaño review which leaves you with the impression that the reviweing author hasn’t read anybody else from Latin America except García Márquez and maybe Vargas Llosa (we don’t need more reviews of The One Or Two Big Foreign Authors, we need more translations - of everybody else), and David Harvey discussing the financial crash.

Here’s the beginning. An excerpt of the excerpt. if you’re into it, it’s worth getting the journal, as the piece is long, offline and in full honesty/demystification mode:

I’ve DJed in more than two dozen countries. What I do isn’t remotely popular in any of them.

It’s hard to reach North Cyprus—the Turkish portion of the island that seceded after a war with Greece in 1974—not least because only one country, Turkey, officially recognizes it. Yet there we were, whizzing through arid country past pastel bunker-mansions, the architectural embodiment of militarized paranoia and extreme wealth, en route to an empty four-star hotel. We were going to rest for a day and then play music in the ruins of a crusader castle. It was the year 2000. I was the turntablist for an acid jazz group from New York City. The band didn’t really need a DJ, but it did need someone to signify “hip-hop,” and that was me. There were six of us—our saxophonist leader, Ilhan Irsahim; a singer, Norah Jones, before she was known for anything besides being Ravi Shankar’s daughter; a bassist, a drummer, and a Haitian sampler-player. There were four attendants in the hotel casino, bored behind the gaming tables, and only two other paying guests—British pensioners, holdovers from remembered pre-1974 days when Cyprus was undivided.

I sat beside the pool talking to our host, trying to figure out why we were there. Down the coast, thirty miles away in the haze, a tall cluster of glass-and-steel buildings hugged the shore. “What’s that city?” I asked. It looked like Miami. “Varosha,” she said. Completely evacuated in the 1974 conflict. A ghost town on the dividing line between North and South Cyprus. The only people there were UN patrol units and kids from either side who entered the prohibited zone to live out a J. G. Ballard fantasy of decadent parties in abandoned seaside resorts.

If North Cyprus represented the forgotten side of a fault line of global conflict, how were we getting paid? Who owned those scattered mansions that we saw on the way from the airport? Was our trip bankrolled with narco-dollars, to please the criminals hiding out in an empty landscape, or with Turkish state funding, to win tourists back? I never found out. I bought a laptop with my earnings, quit the band, and moved from New York to Barcelona.

DUTTY MOVES

OiNK is dead. In the past week, I was invited to 2 post-OiNK sites (by an altruistic stranger and the same woman who gave me my first taste of pig). Both sites are quite good. Together they have almost as many members as OiNK did, and they’re only a few months old. You can change the skin/stylesheet of each one to an ‘OiNK’ setting, so it looks almost exactly like our departed friend.

Cut off the head, several grow back.

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I’m playing NYC’s DubWar party tonite, with special guest Jah Dan blessing the mic. Details and ticket giveway over at Dutty Artz.

Matt Shadetek & I sat down and looked at our release schedule for 2008 – it is beastly. It is craziness. We are being topsecret w/ power moves for the moment but soon we’ll turn it on and it won’t stop. the label has a myspace, the iceberg’s tip.

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Alan blogs. And it’s great. sorry, gringos.

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Greg = gringo, but when he writes about funk carioca, he talks about contracts, which is wonderful. His post led me to Flamin Hotz, who talks about contracts, which is wonderful. The Flamin Hotz post is the best online overview i’ve seen of funk economics; before you can even talk about international exploitation/interaction, there’s a ton of Brasil-side madness to contend with:

When the artist in the favela sells the song, the contracts stipulates that he is signing over all of his rights to the music for a one time fee (roughly $1000 reais or approximately $500), the artist will not be allowed to play the song live any more, and that the artist will get no credit for the musical process that was put into the song. In the Baile Funk scene this is just business as usual and has created a huge divide in who actually is getting money from CD sales, radio play, and international licensing. Our goal with our international release is to combat this system where money is only filtering to the top of the food chain.

This touches on what happens in many musical ecosystems across the planet. Most of the classic reggae tunes, for example, are owned and controlled by the studio bosses, so when labels like Soul Jazz license material the studio bosses are the ones they must legally deal with — the ones who get paid. For example, if you want to put Sister Nancy’s classic anthem ‘Bam Bam’ on a compilation, you do not need her permission and she does not receive any money from it, even though she wrote and performed the lyrics.

The music business is a kind of pathetic vivid nightmare, run by greedy people, dilettantes, and people who don’t like music.

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Maga Bo knows incredible amounts about Brazilian music. A comprehensive radio show/podcast he’s done for years is now archived at Spannered.

DEFENDIENDO AL CERDO

I’m still reeling at all the ongoing attention & linkage to my OiNK piece. Thanks so much for the comments and conversation. I’m happy to announce that it has been translated to Spanish by the Soy Leyenda blog. Quick reading looks good, soon I’ll go over the trans. more carefully and repost here.

Más que ninguna otra cosa en este año, el sitio web de intercambio de música & software, Oink, cambió la manera que tenía de pensar acerca de la industria musical y del intercambio de ficheros. [from Defending the Pig: Spanish translation]

Radio show tonite! I’ll be playing lots of great new material: Tego Calderon, Gorilla Zoe, Hyperdub, new London d-step whitelabels, etc. If you want to put a spring in yr step, check Nick Catchdub’s set from last week, streaming.

DEFENDING THE PIG – OINK CROAKS

a pig goes oink.

but oink goes croak. (first rule of oink: don’t talk about oink.)

oink

More than anything else this year, music & software file-sharing site Oink changed the way I thought about the music industry & BitTorrent technology. I’d heard rumors of Oink for years but hadn’t seen the members-only site until early ’07. Oink was anal, Oink was comprehensive. The site administrators were fierce about quality — only high-quality files from original CD/vinyl rips could be posted. Many releases were even posted as FLAC (lossless) files. Oink allowed only entire releases, with complete tracklist information (uploading an incomplete album or a poorly labeled MP3 could get you kicked off). No bootlegs or concert recordings or unfinished pre-release mixes were permitted.

In many cases, I believe that downloading an album from Oink would be both faster (more on this in a bit) and give you more information about the CD than sites like iTunes.

Think about that… a free website, which gives fast downloads of music at equivalent or higher quality than the paid music sites. And this free site has an incredibly deep collection of both new and old releases, usually in a variety of file formats and bit-rates. It’s overwhelming! First thought: wow, Oink is an amazing library. Second thought: wow, I really need to start selling DJ Rupture t-shirts, CD sales will only continue to drop & I gotta make money somehow!

My library metaphor for Oink makes more sense than economic analogies: for digital music & data, there’s lots of demand but no scarcity at all, which either requires that we rebuild an economic model not based on supply & demand, or start embracing commons analogies. I like living from my music but I also like libraries, the ideas behind libraries…

For fans, consideration of the music comes before questions of money and ownership – this is how it should be. Any system that doesn’t take that into account as a central fact is going to generate a lot of friction. When I say ‘system’, I mean everything from Sony to iTunes to white-label 12″s that cost 8-pounds ($16.38!) in London shops and only have 2 songs on them. (I bought a bunch of these last week, and it hurt).

Oink didn’t offer solutions; it highlighted the problems of over-priced, over-controlled music elsewhere. Oink was an online paradise for music fans. The only people who could truly be mad at it were the ones directly profiting from the sale of digital or physical music. (Like myself! F%5k!)

Oink had everything by certain artists. Literally, everything. I searched for ‘DJ Rupture’ and found every release I’d ever done, from an obscure 7″ on a Swedish label to 320kpbs rips of my first 12″, self-released back in 1999. It was shocking. And reassuring. The big labels want music to equal money, but as much as anything else, music is memory, as priceless and worthless as memory…

About a week after I shipped out orders of the first live CD-r Andy Moor & I did, it appeared on Oink. Someone who had purchased it directly from me turned around and posted it online, for free. I wasn’t mad, I was just more stunned by the reach… and usefulness of the site.

If sharing copywritten music without paying for it were legal, than Oink was the best music website in the world.

Like many BitTorrent sites, Oink enforced share ratios. In a nutshell, share ratios mean that each user must upload a certain amount of data in relation to what they download. This feature encourages sharing. For example, a minimum share ratio of 0.20 (was that Oink’s? can’t remember) means that if you download 5 albums, then you must upload around 1 album’s worth of music, data equaling one-fifth the amount you nabbed from Oink users. If you only take (selfish leech) and do not give, or if you share, but not enough, then you eventually get kicked off.

With BitTorrent, most folks downloading the same files also upload the bits they grab, so everybody gets fast DL speeds (compare with popular files hosted on one server — incredibly slow speeds, or even server crash). Thus, a popular album (or legal linux distribution) can be grabbed in minutes with a decent internet connection. (uTorrent is a good BitTorrent client for Windows)

Watching Oink work helped me to understand the structural intelligence of BitTorrent architecture. Oink, like BitTorrent itself, became stronger & faster the more people used it – scalability writ large. Folks wanted to share – to maintain high share ratios. New releases were highly valued. But users kept older releases available as well (you never know when someone will want your Norwegian proto-deathmetal collection, so you keep your bandwidth open). Whether you call it distributed tape-sharing (to use an 80s term) or distributed piracy (to use a 90s industry term), Oink’s use of BitTorrent & careful quality control did it elegantly.

Aside: If Radiohead (the British rock band who achieved worldwide success via a long-term mutually-beneficial relationship with a major record label) were truly radical, they would have posted their new album as a BitTorrent file with a PayPal & bank account link for the fans who felt like paying. Not hosting it on some weird website with an awkward interface & requiring credit card info…

Aside: One thing I don’t understand is how Oink got taken down while Soulseek continues as it has for years… Slsk has always struck me as the least moral of the p2p systems. If you pay Soulseek $5 a month, you get ‘privileged download access‘ to files stored on Slsk users hard drives. Soulseek earns money by controlling access to the files stored on its users’ drives, users who never see any of this money. And if they don’t like the fact that paying people get special access to their data, there’s nothing they can do about it. Correction: with Slsk you have lots of control over who can access your shared files.

Oink was not “extremely lucrative” as the BBC boldfacedly claims. If I remember correctly, a one-time donation of 5 pounds would do something-or-other, but it was a far cry from Soulseek’s monthly privilege fees. Nor, for the record, did Oink “lead to early mixes and unfinished versions of artists’ recordings circulating on the internet months ahead of the release.” – this is strangely ironic, since Oink would strip user privileges if they were caught circulating unfinished or unofficial album versions. This was a site run by audiophiles and music obsessives!

But Pandora’s Box has been opened. Remember when Napster croaked? Piracy file-sharing is so much easier now. The anal-retentive British site admins kept Oink organized. Bittorent architecture kept Oink efficient. Oink’s alleged 180,000 users won’t forget how useful it was. The next Oink will be sturdier & more multiple. The overall movement is towards more ways to share music & ideas with like-minded individuals on the internet.

The way I see it, this can only be a good thing for music fans. And what musician is not first a music fan?