Live/Workers of the World, Unite!

Doesn't the phrase "luxury live/work" say it all?

The phrase “luxury live/work” is a dead giveaway, n’est-ce pas?

With great hesitation I want to make some remarks about gentrification, and presume to make them because I don’t see anyone else doing so in weeklies, blogs, etc. I’ll make it brief since typing necessitates putting down my hand-ground pour-over coffee, bacon scone made with all locally-sourced ingredients, and having to swish my fair-trade, hand-woven faux-Pakistani/deStijl shawl over my shoulder so the fringe doesn’t get between my fingers and the keyboard, causing me to mistakenly type phrases like “reactionary bourgeois ignoramuses.” You know what they say about honey vs. vinegar.

In the interest of due diligence, and since many have surely written about the subject with far more erudition and research than I have, I looked some basic things up on this topic. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “gentrify” as to “renovate and improve (especially a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” According to a Wikipedia entry that presumably reflects a current understanding of the term, “Gentrification is a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values. Gentrification is typically the result of investment in a community by real estate development businesses, local government, or community activists.” In territory located somewhere between the OED’s rather politically uninflected definition and Wikipedia’s immediate acknowledgment of the topic’s web of social implications, Merriam-Webster defines it as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” The only phrase that is glaringly problematic in any of the three characterizations is “middle-class or affluent people,” suggesting that the two classes are interchangeable or even in the same species.

All seems well and level-headed in that initial paragraph on Wikipedia, but scrolling down to the contents of the article reveals the heading “Gentrifier Types” and the subheadings “Women,” “Gay and lesbian people,” and “Artists.” Before following the link and thereby diving into the depths of the hive mind, I give myself and you time for a hearty laugh and a girding of the loins. But our alarm generally goes unrewarded. It turns out there are theories about certain kinds of single, childless and/or gay, and working people who seek cheap housing in a city so they can be close to work. Huh! The “Artists” section recognizes that artists are usually not “first-stage” or “prototypical” gentrifiers, but rather “marginal” gentrifiers, which is a subset that’s the first to get pushed out of a neighborhood by rising property values. The article also states that “Just as critical to the gentrification process as creating a favorable environment is the availability of the ‘gentry,’ or those who will be first-stage gentrifiers. The typical gentrifiers are affluent and have a professional-level, service industry jobs, many of which involve self-employment.”

Which gets to the major point I have to make. The agents of gentrification are real estate developers and landlords, not artists, writers, musicians, restaurant or bar owners, or anyone else. The point must be made here because I have never once read it in print or online, and rarely heard it even in casual conversation. That may be because it isn’t true, but the process seems to me very clean cut. Creative types move to a given neighborhood for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is what they can afford. They may seek a live/work situation or a place to make messy work. Like my wife Lexa, a longtime resident of West Oakland, they may be attracted to living among working class people and not suburban or more well-to-do types, since they can relate to the former. Their presence gives a neighborhood a bohemian flavor. They set up galleries and a shop or two so they can sell each other art and things. So then how the artists do what they need to do and how they live the way they want to attracts people from outside the neighborhood who need amusement and things to spend their money on. This gives rise to a restaurant and a bar, because wandering around makes you hungry, and a neighborhood suddenly getting its own name, which is when it becomes a “thing.” Which is when landlords and developers smell money and raise property values, sometimes accompanied by “improvements” and new construction. Seem reasonable?

Artists are usually renters–rarely property owners–who live in a neighbo because they can afford it, and they have no direct control over property values. They are also the first to get priced out, and the last to profit from a neighbo rising up. Articles like the ones in the current “Oakland” issue of SF Magazine issue portray this happy society of artists selling expensive pieces and making a living, but it’s not happening in any statistically significant numbers.

The minor point I have to make is only that there may not be such an entity as a gentrifier–in the sense of a conscious, intentional agent of gentrification–of any kind besides a real estate professional. Creatives in the renting class have absolutely nothing to gain by rising property values, so they cannot be said to be gentrifiers. Neither can tech industry employees be described as gentrifiers: the fact that they are paid a certain amount of money for doing certain work reflects only a market tendency in compensation, not an intention for how the money will be spent. It would be surprising if a techie wished to spend any more money than an artie on any given good or service. Besides, only an artist would think that a low six-figure salary guarantees anyone the power to influence or direct events outside their own life.

A coffee shop just opened in West Oakland, which makes the number of grocery stores and coffee shops in the neighborhood equal. Fear not, though, since it isn’t until they pull up all the disused railroad tracks crossing Peralta Street, which rattle the skulls and shred the bikes of those who pass over them, gates and barriers that they are–not until then will we really have something to worry about.

Oakland Forced to Have Another Relationship Talk

An example of the some of the rad art happening in Oakland these days--you won't see this in SF magazine.

An example of the some of the rad art happening in Oakland these days–you won’t see this in SF magazine.

I really hesitate to say anything about the current “state” of Oakland, meaning about the city’s supposedly contentious relationship to San Francisco, about its explosion of restaurants and bars, about its nightlife, etc., all the stuff that is fodder for lifestyle glossies such as San Francisco Magazine, whose current issue is devoted, strangely enough, to a city other than SF. The big message lying in a two-page spread amidst all the newspaper-weekend-section-things-to-do-for-25-year-old-thrill-seekers-in-a-pabst-blue-ribbon-orgy-in-progress dreck seems to be that it took Oakland shops selling $200 jeans and $2000 chairs to be finally “taken seriously” by our Manhattan across the Bay.

Two points, however, should be made about what’s actually a somewhat multi-culti, multi-camera approach of the issue in question. The first is to point out how lovely, levelheaded, and to-the-point Chinaka Hodge‘s reminiscence about growing up in different neighborhoods in Oakland is, and her message(s) to the new “gentrifier” residents. Her suggestion to be involved and present in (apologies for the utterly caucasian slash hippy term “present” but I do read Buddhism) and open to the neighborhood you live in has me seriously ready to follow her advice about volunteer mentoring students from nearby schools.

Hodge is about the last person to whom I’d direct remarks about who does the gentrifying in any given neighborhood in any given city across the country, not least because her piece transcends the status of click-bait and provides a light somewhere in the middle of the tunnel. Not being an urban planner, politician, real estate mogul or other big picture influencer, hers is in the voice and tone that really matters in this kind of discussion, which is a personal one. By talking about people as free agents who have particular lives and who happen to have different economic, social, and racial backgrounds that lend themselves to all sorts of grandiose comments and Tweets, she laser-points at the spirit of the age: that no leader or organization or party or country is going to do jack for anyone but titans and lobbyists.

Change happens on the level of the personal. As a white hetero artist (would someone just kill me now b/t/w and help save the world?), I expected to be the target of yet another piece calling me out as an agent of gentrification, but nothing of the sort happened. Not sure if Hodge would agree with the previous paragraph, but after setting up an expectation that she would talk theory, she talked story instead.

The second point is that if there is a relationship between Oakland and SF, Frisco is in the position of the partner that always wants to talk about the relationship, while Oakland just wants to have fun and enjoy it. As long as there’s a bridge and BART trains, none of us have to choose between the two, and where each city is on some imaginary pecking order makes no difference. There’s too much sunshine, too many films to see, too many of my friends’ books to read, and too many people lying on the grass drinking beer at 2 in the afternoon for anyone to be tied up in knots about how “we” compare to SF.

Maybe SFers feel they used to have an Oakland-type deal some years back before the dreaded internet. Now it’s not like that, but where does the guilt come from? Nostalgia? As we know, nostalgia is a disease, just as guilt is. At least with guilt there’s a whiff of personal agency: you should have done something and didn’t. Ironically, anyone experiencing guilt about what’s happened in SF and/or Oakland probably had no direct responsibility for it. Artists, I’m talking to you. (See my post later this week about gentrification.) The only value of guilt in this scenario is in helping to identify the self-aware.

Nostalgia, though, is just fretting over things that inevitably slipped away. That old relationship that was fun but just never worked out? Maybe it had to end, and maybe this one now has to end too. San Francisco, it’s time we broke up. We’re going to let you down easy, though, and start just by making the last BART train at 11:30 instead of 12:30. Plus your people are not allowed to come over here in those funny retro hats.

31 Ways of Looking at Noise

Noise Rainbow
Hymn To The Internet
Our Inheritance
I Sold My Drums To Pay For A Nite With Your Mom
I Made This In A Day
Get What You Pay For
Sound
Fall Asleep
The End
The Beginning
Be The First To Listen
The Sound Of My World
Shut Off
Listen To With Scotch
White Violet Blue Pink Brown And Grey
Oh Jesus God Who Cares
Fuck Everything
Fuck Everything, Love Everyone
Dowloadable
Innominable
You’ll Never Find Me
I Dare You To Listen
Listen With Scorn
A Soothing Sound
No Mind
Never Mind
Pretend This Never Happened
Pretend You Never Heard It
Ungold
Unfold
Furnitures Of Tomorrow
Heilige Schweigen
Tigers Above, Tigers Below
Nowness

[title ideas for a 34 minute piece using different colors of noise - what's your vote?]

All Known Metal Bands T-Shirt and Launch of New T-Shirt Line!

AKMB-t-shirt-1

Pre-order the “All Known Metal Bands” t-shirt and join me in launching my new line of t-shirts called Custom Flotilla. This is the 6 year anniversary of the book and I’m finally getting around to making a shirt that lists all the names from the book that start with “black.” Hallelujah! Err, I mean, Hail Satan!

This campaign will also help me launch my new line of t-shirts called Custom Flotilla. If you’ve ever found yourself in need of a humorous t-shirt but don’t want to look like a tourist in some baggy, scratchy shirt that says “Property of Alcatraz” or “1 Tequila, 2 Tequila, 3 Tequila, Floor”, then Custom Flotilla is for you. We’ll be making shirts that reveal you to be the clever, cool individual you really are.

Go here to see the Indiegogo campaign!

AKMB-t-shirt-2

The Peach Pie of Destiny

the-peach-pie-of-destiny

“Labor Day” was a fine movie to see on a rainy Sunday. Josh Brolin as the lovable fugitive with an undershirt clinging to his sweaty muscles and Kate Winslet as the troubled mother with a sun dress clinging to her sweaty…um, sorry, what was I saying? It’s an absurdly compelling blend of film noir and Hallmark TV movie. To paraphrase Anthony Lane’s New Yorker review: “Yes, Josh Brolin, tie me to a chair and bake me a pie, yes! Yes!”

Film noir is one of, if not the, classic American film style in that it reflects certain attitudes that we Americans have. Pretty obvious, right? Watching the two protagonists in “Labor Day” was a chance to observe two of the conceits that are the basis of all film noir. One is the idea that “if I can just do this one thing, it will all work out.” Whether it’s a heist, that “one last job,” taking someone out, getting the money, getting the girl, revenge, etc.: like gambling, it’s that one big chance to win big and forever. Also to make good in the face of all the suckers who ever doubted you. In a lot of movies the protagonist is considered guilty but actually innocent (an interesting tangent that might end up being a denial of original sin…?). In film noir it seems to be reversed.

The other is the inconvenience of other people and their agendas in the pursuit of the One Big Thing. Once you’ve sympathized with the character who’s taking the big risk in a film noir, other characters start to intrude with their sensible but maddening behavior: how dare that bank clerk wonder that our heroine wants to withdraw all the money out of her bank account! Well yes our heroine is acting suspicious, but going to get your supervisor’s approval is messing with the carrying out the One Big Thing, you idiot!

“Labor Day” puts us in the odd position of rooting for the protagonists while understanding the behavior of these side characters perfectly. As audience members, we’re allowed to not only root for them but buy into their crazy non-logic in a way that the characters themselves are not. In the case of “Labor Day,” holding those two attitudes at once creates tension, alongside the tension of wondering will they get away with it.

The idea that one action would ever solve everything in a life is alluring but ridiculous, like the attache case with the golden, glowing but never revealed contents in “The Usual Suspects.” It’s an escape fantasy in a reality that requires hard work, persistence, and a dizzying variety of actions, plans, and strategies. The Money, the Girl, the Heist, the Last Train: what we wish most as the Solution is not, and often twists Maltese falcon-like into the Problem and/or the Downfall.

That our multifarious actions and plans are entwined with those of other people, and that we succeed exactly to the extent that we finesse our relationships with them and mesh our actions with theirs is what film noir denies on the surface. But it’s the truth that is always proven in the film’s action, which is the ironic wall that we and the characters hit at The End. Take heart, though, because sometimes that wall is just vinyl siding with a brick pattern. And you never know what’s on the other side.

Would You Recognize an Avant-Garde on the Street?

avant-garde-echo-chamber

Moving from the economics of running a band into how being a band/brand that’s trying to make a living relates to and conflicts with being transgressive, my back-and-forth with Garth continues.

DN: Needless to say, there’s a lot to unpack in my blithe statement in the post about Suuns: “What has become of the avant-garde?!”

GK: So, your comment about the avant-garde? Watch this [link to a documentary featuring key US punks and post-punks from bands like Black Flag, i/o/w the folks who created the entire indie DIY music culture network as we know it] and remember that each and every one of the people interviewed is a brilliant and savvy promoter of their own artistic brand, especially when they become strident and shrill in their rejection of corporatism—it’s the most unimpeachable, pure ideal one can put into words, and it conveniently speaks to the heart of the youth rebel experience, which in turn fuels the entire economy of brand-loyal rock fans.

DN: Yes, punk was also a revolution in how artists stopped trying to get released and paid by record companies and figured out, if not how to pay themselves, then at least how to fund their music. Doing this required rejecting promoters and becoming a promoter, becoming your own record label, and becoming your own marketing machine. As GK says, “every one of [those people] is a brilliant and savvy promoter of their own artistic brand.” It’s interesting to think of how the cultural situation of 1978 is almost reversed now that DIY is the norm, and what it means to be avant-garde. Or would mean, assuming that anyone in 2014 is publicly avant-garde at all, with “publicly” meant to distinguish from people doing effed-up noise in their basement in utter obscurity and not really part of the larger culture.

GK: It is a very compelling question–what it would mean to be avant-garde, at this point. If you ask me, people may need to wake up to the possibility that Nietzsche was right—we are woefully under-equipped as a species to figure out what the hell we are doing, or why. Meanwhile, we persist in folly, vanity, vapidity, inanity, greed, violence, and ego-flexing. Merely mirroring these unbecoming traits back on ourselves with art and music has been done, and done, and done.

I am not a cynic. I am just as stridently anti-corporate as any of these people. I am just as frustrated and outraged at the absence of transgression in not just popular music, but all forms of music. Music that is made deliberately to be unlistenable misses the point, and is a lazy and bourgeois pollutant that obfuscates the potential of music as a tool for mass communication. I mean, I like a lot of it, but “We’re Fucked” is a one-note samba. I can’t help but laugh at the idea that everything from this moment on [with a link to a video of Elvis’s famous TV performance of “Hound Dog” in 1956, swaying pelvis and all] has been one more clever repackaging of simple, calculated “transgression” for the sake of getting attention.

DN: The Elvis thing is a trip, what’s he doing becomes a shtick in seconds, and then Berle comes out and confirms it by aping him, hilarious. It’s always been a fine line between the act of transgression and the act calculated to get attention. Think of the punks that talk about spitting, something that became “a thing” that audience members would do to a band, when the band didn’t even want it! Ripped clothes become runway fashion. Tattoos go from something only convicts and sailors get to one of the ultimate marks of hipness. A performer does something in the heat of the moment, like smash a guitar, and instantly realizes that fans love it. It becomes a staple gesture that helps get exposure for the music, until finally he’s obligated to make that gesture, over and over and over night after night.

GK: This is the meat of it all. Music can be a job, just like anything else. And when people want to get uppity about artistic purity, it’s just so much ego-flexing to me. I’ve had lots of jobs—contractor, carpenter, cab driver, busboy, clerk, session musician—and I’ve never seen a job that escapes its “job-ness.” You can do any job with style, but you can’t get away from who you’re doing it for (other people), and why (because they pay you). Which is the greater compromise? Playing music somebody asks you to play, or painting their house the colors they ask you to paint it? Meanwhile, no one is stopping you from spending as much time as you want writing the “We’re Fucked” Symphony.

Bands hustle for the same shows, whether they are house parties or supper clubs. They want attention. What happens after they’ve gotten some can, of course, be artistic and culturally significant. But let’s not act as if bands can or even should exist outside of the fundamental architecture of show business. If you’re on the stage, you’ve asked an audience to watch you. All highfalutin debate after that is showbiz. Those who refuse to admit this are either fools, liars, or both, in my book. Like I said, it’s rock and roll, not Mensa material. I include myself in this category!

“Avant-garde” belongs exclusively to action, not theory, at this point. I might also argue that it must leave the realm of art, if it is to be meaningful. Tongue-wagging, cleverness, and all obvious or sublimated tactics to gain attention are all, sadly, inadequate to the tasks at hand. What’s really interesting is that everyone knows this, through and through, from the top to the bottom. It’s where we are now. We have corporatized the weather, the oceans, the land, and each other. What choice does any one of us have?

DN: Well, this is the dark side of the punk rock legacy: we’re all our own marketers. It extends beyond creatives too, everyone is expected to be the promoter of their own brand, to think of themselves as a company or their own employer, and to act like an entrepreneur. To me the real tragedy of this is that those who are better at self-promotion get more recognition. This isn’t to gainsay the idea that “if you want more attention, make better stuff,” but I will state that there is a hell of a lot of noise and cutting through it favors, if not certain personality types, then individuals who have marketing savvy. The shy kid playing in his bedroom doesn’t have a chance in hell unless his type A personality friend gets the word out.

I’d agree with avant-garde leaving the realm of art. If you take Dada as an example of the avant-garde, it was formed initially as an anti-war and anti-nationalist group by Hugo Ball. Ball had a philosophy background and after being involved with Dada for two years left and basically became a monk. Wikipedia says: “In the first of the movement’s manifestos, Ball wrote: “[The booklet] is intended to present to the Public the activities and interests of the Cabaret Voltaire, which has as its sole purpose to draw attention, across the barriers of war and nationalism, to the few independent spirits who live for other ideals.” It was a form of resistance to prevailing ideas. Ball left the group actually because of a disagreement with Tristan Tzara about where it should go. Tzara was an artist, performer, dandy and showman and Dada for him was more vaudeville and sensationalist. This version of Dada is what we inherited. People now might have the impression that Dada was formed in order to promote the antics and showbiz of its members rather than to take an ideological stance. This is what makes the idea of avant-garde so difficult now. If every person and group is a brand, how do you make a gesture that’s not a promotion of that brand?

GK: Well, every individual is free to act in whichever ways accord with their beliefs. I wish more people would just live life for its own sake, instead of compulsively documenting it as if it were a reality show. But if you are an artist or a band, you don’t make gestures that aren’t representative of your voice. You can’t. It’s the way of this world. I didn’t make it that way, and neither did you. But if one hopes to communicate with a group of people that’s larger than one’s friends and family, one has to deal with it. This is to say, the tools for DIY self-promotion are more efficient and powerful than ever before. Older bands who did it the hard way are pretty resentful of how easy it is for kids today. Rightly so. At the same time, I think there’s an intractable gulf between what appears to be successful, and what the reality may be. The death of the record label has brought with it the crumbling of all standards of measurement. If someone tries to define “success” today, they’re only going to be able to describe one specific version of it, for no two are the same. And more than that, who gives a shit what anyone defines as success anymore? If bands are bummed out, they should quit. That goes for young and old alike.

DN: So your band/brand is expected to promote itself but the product has almost zero value. We could get into a book-length discussion about the schizophrenic attitudes people have about whether and how the arts should be associated with money and provide a living for creatives. I’d argue that, as a nation of consumers, we think of everything vying for our attention equally, it’s all content being advertised to our wallets and attention spans. We are the curators and select what to pay attention to and not. This is the major difference between the punk rock economy of 1980 with its emphasis on taking on the means of production and distribution, and the economy of 2014: everything is available to everyone instantly, the problem is one of curation.

GK: To me, the punks got off their asses, worked hard, got organized, and took on the Man. Then they became the Man. Then something weird happened, just like with the weather, just like with Monsanto in the Midwest. In 1999, Napster, iTunes, and the Music Genome Project arrived on the scene—three different entities with three different takes on digital music. The tools for the corporatization of digital music were put into use, and Pandora’s box was open.

DN: Like I said, music is social and wants to be part of the cultural dialogue of the time, whether it’s for or against that culture. I see two possibilities for the avant-garde, which are also responses to the oversaturation of culture: withdrawal or inclusion. The only radical thing you can do as an artist right now is to either make/do nothing or to carry on and just keep it private, like don’t share it with anybody. The other is to only do participatory art that is purely about participation and the participants, in other words as a social catalyst where the goal is purely social and products and ideas are simply tools.

GK: I’d disagree that there need to be any rules of conduct whatsoever. I think that it’s a good thing to remind ourselves and each other that this is the life we have. Applying rules, conditions, levels of access, and metrics of “success” are all kind of like living in a world where your lungs and heart say, “Hey, you know, I’m tired. I’m gonna take a break. I’ll be back in half an hour.” It doesn’t work that way.

DN: Well, there are rules, much as we’d love for there not to be. Punks becoming the Man is an example of that. What started as a broken rule became defined by it. You say “If bands are bummed out, they should quit” and I’m sure that makes a lot of people shudder. But so what? It’s not like quitting is committing suicide, is it? Is participating in culture as necessary as breathing? There are also metrics of success because we live in a capitalist/corporate society, and the only way for those metrics to not apply to you is to not participate in culture in that way. So non-participation or complete participation is my view of the avant-garde. What would another be?

Symphony No. 0 in the Key of F: More Thoughts About Bands Getting Paid

pay-to-play-record

A musician friend of mine who has some personal experience with song licensing, and who knows others who do, had some fruitful observations about my Suuns post. What follows isn’t a straight conversation or an Oxford debate, it’s a number of exchanges edited to flow loosely from idea to idea.

He (GK) says: There is still an enormous gulf between perception and reality when average people encounter licensed music in public. People assume that, because an artist’s work has been co-opted, the artist’s payout is commensurate with the listener’s perception of the co-opter’s financial clout. Simply put, people think that if Doritos uses a band’s song, the band must now be millionaires (or even hundred-thousandaires). The reality is that they maybe make $5,000, and that’s on the upper end of things. Divided among 4 band members (assuming they function as a collective, and share everything equally, haha!) that’s $1,250 per band member, or $24 per week, or $3.43 per day. Not exactly a living wage. Hell, let’s assume they hit the jackpot and got $50,000. That’s $34.30 per guy per day.

DN: A just correction of my sort of fantasy projection of what I thought a band would receive for a licensed song, which was more of a wouldn’t-it-be-neat-and-also-tidy if a licensing fee supported 4 members of a band for one year. (This is one manifestation of my semi-obsession with the idea of having one year without a day job and seeing what I could accomplish in unencumbered time.)
deep-purple-tour-fall

GK: Your average tour van costs $25 per hour to operate. Here’s my friend’s band’s last tour (click image above to expand). The total was 9,317 miles @ $.30/mile = $2,800 in gas alone (not including van rental if they don’t own their van, or wear and tear, tires, tows, insurance, etc. if they do). This also doesn’t begin to cover the daily expenses of hotels or food…and that’s for only 5 weeks, not 4-6 months of a year. At $560 per week, 6 months of touring would cost $13,440 in gas alone. So that $5,000 that a band makes for licensing a song is 2/3 gone on gas alone for a full US tour (most bands can’t even stand each other after 5 weeks). Gas stations don’t accept vinyl EP’s or live performances as payment for their services. This isn’t to say that they might not also get other licensing deals, or play a couple of festivals to hopefully offset the dismal return on a 10% capacity show (although some festivals pay even less than clubs, offering “exposure” instead of cash). Still, it’s fucking brutal, and a really stupid thing to do, even if all you want is to make money, regardless of artistic/cultural contributions.

DN: As you see, though, Garth jumps straight into the economics of touring. For a group of people who want to survive by playing music as their sole means of support, touring is the undeniable reality. Earning next to nothing from selling records, CDs or downloads, bands are driven (ha!) to playing live and selling t-shirts. Touring regularly is a way of keeping themselves in the public eye and conventional wisdom says that this is the way to build a fan base. (By “conventional” I mean “early ‘80s thinking”—I’ll return to that later.) If you have 10 people see you at the Rumpus Room, or whatever the black box you’re playing is called, on your first tour and 2 of those folks tell their friends, maybe you have 15 the next time, 30 the time after that, etc.

GK: Unless they worked hard back in the 90’s and early 2000’s to gain a name for themselves, or are independently wealthy to begin with, no band can afford to say no [to licensing], especially when 10% of the room comes to see their live show, which is the only area (outside of licensing) that bands can even hope to make money, now that all recordings, in all formats, are worthless. Without a label, private investor, trust fund, or super-high paying day job, who’s gonna pay for instruments, practice space, studio time, T-shirts, cassettes, CDs, vinyl, a van, gas for the van, and be able to cover time off from work for 4 people in the meantime? Don’t get me started on vinyl, if you don’t have a distributor. Expense of manufacturing/self-distribution outweighs profit margin by so much, it’s pure vanity to do it.

DN: I had a quote drawn up to press 300 copies of a 12” of “The Beige Album” and it was something in the neighborhood of $8 each vs. $3 for a CD. Vinyl is collectible and fetishized, while CDs are worthless as merch now. The only thing worse than touring this $8-a-pop “Beige Album” would be not touring it! Or is the reverse true? All is vanity.

GK: That said, pure vanity can go a long way in show business. The people who work in licensing today have spent most of their lives either in bands or working for labels and recording studios. They have done this math before. Anyone who has ever started one of these businesses will tell you that the glamour wears off as soon as you can’t pay your second month of rent. Where’s the money? With a seemingly endless supply of young bands motivated by pure vanity, there’s potential money to be made by producers and business people. Historically, rock bands aren’t Mensa material.

DN: I also have a parallel discussion going with a musician/writer friend Scott (who works for an online music streaming site) about matters that overlap with this, such as oversaturation, self-promotion, what artists give and require from audiences, etc. Simply trying to determine why a band tours exactly, given the expense, the periodic personal upheaval, the difficulty of maintaining jobs and relationships, the fatigue and tedium of it, and given the fact that it’s so easy to hear a band’s music online nowadays….this gets to the heart of the area where compensation and artistic expression…do what? merge? overlap? two sides of one coin? That’s the question. My argument is that bands want to get their music out there primarily because music is social and to be part of the cultural dialogue of the time, and that getting paid facilitates this, serves it. Shows are more fun with more people in the audience, and bands respond to the energy of that.