I was clearly kidding about Pharrell being a genius.
Actually, I find comments like the ones he’s making to be rather questionable. And he knows it, because if you listen to the sound bite, he makes mention of it being easy to question his motives for saying some of these things. He essentially calls record label prehistoric, and comments on Susan Boyle, saying,
They were tryng to change her look, she should have stayed the way she was, cause it’s no longer intersting. Leave her alone; that’s what engaged everybody. She’s talented. Someone should be signing her right now. It would work. The world would want to hear that. The last 12 to 15 years, this whole aesthetic thing has ruined everything. It’s not about how good your hair grows, or like how strong your cheekbones are, or like how much colagen is in your lips, or if you’ve gotten a boob job. What music was, and what it’s going back to, is how talented is this person?
My thing is, you think someone should sign her. Ok, so sign her! You have a label. You have relationships. You have money. Make it happen.
Ok, so maybe it’s not that easy. But still, it kills me when people who are in a position of influence don’t use that influence for the greater good. Maybe Pharrell doesn’t fall into that category completely, because I do think the guy is a proponent of cultural and musical change. The Neptunes definitely shifted the landscape for urban-driven pop music. And a lot of the skater aesthetics, the European and Japanese fashion, and so on, Pharrell was heavily complicit in that movement. That movement is by and large what youth pop culture is right now, at least in the urban space. So I give Pharrell a lot of credit for doing things differently for arguably most of his career.
Musically though, it’s been a few years since The Neptunes have really gotten behind any talent. Which is what he’s talking about. He’s saying, the aesthetic is over. It’s about how well you can hit this or that note. I agree. It is about talent right now. Because the filters and the companies that owned them, have either totally crumbled to the ground, or been leveraged by other forms of media, replaced by other filters, and just people in general. Those social networks that Pharrell talks about, he’s right, they have found ways to get eyeballs on new forms of music. That said, they’ve also gotten eyes on people like Tila Tequila too. So the aesthetic is not completely gone from people’s consciousness. The “show” part of show business still factors in. Just maybe not as much.
What’s so crazy to me is, I think if Susan Boyle was a hot broad with big tits, blonde hair, and a coke bottle shape, and she sang the same exact song the same exact way, she might not have gotten nearly as much attention. It would just fly under the radar as some other hot chick with a dope voice.
So the aesthetic factor, or lack thereof, works both ways.
Over at the Wall Street Journal today, there’s an article about how the newspaper business is looking to create some sort of intermediary (“To Beat Antitrust Rap, Papers Take Cues From Songwriters” by Russell Adams and Shira Ovide), much like ASCAP or BMI for songwriters, that would monitor a paper’s content, and demand license fees from sites that post, repurpose, and otherwise aggregate said content.
The article mentions that one of the biggest obstacles facing the establishment of a third party entity is actually anti-trust law, which prohibits companies from joining forces to price fix and keep competition at bay. Which to me is sort of a loaded issue, because while there’s certainly a case to be made for big media trying to keep the little guy down, the reality is that the bulk of real news is still coming from big media. It just gets filtered down on so many levels, from blogs, to twitter, and so on.
It’s almost impossible to quantify all the sources that are pulling from this one piece of content– some monetizing it via ad supported business models on websites and the like, some not monetizing it all– all while the originator of the content, and the company that underwrites the creation of that content (via paying that writer a salary, or paying a freelancer, and a photographer and so on) not seeing any real hardline benefit from it at all.
Now some may argue that the content just being out there on the web is free marketing and so on, and I could see a case being made for that. But it’s hard to tell the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times that some small time blogger is helping their brand sell papers in the big scheme of things, particularly when the links get posted on so many blogs that it’s hard to tell where it originally came from. Fact is, crediting on aggregation models is not very effective, nor standardized.
And that’s one of the biggest problems facing music publishers. Sure, some sites pay for blanket licenses. The big ones do. Your Imeems and Myspaces and so on. These are big business, and the agreements are often times a lot more complex than people can even realize. It’s not as cut and dry as a simple blanket license. There’s revenue sharing built into the ad component of the site as well. So it’s really not as easy as just paying a license fee and/or royalty for every time the music is played. The newspaper business will have to take that into account as well. Because those licensing fees may pale in comparison to the site’s overall revenue. And then what’s going to happen? The newspapers are going to come back crying for more money. Just like the labels have done with Google/Youtube, saying they’re not getting enough money out of their licensing arrangements.
The bigger issue, I think, is quantifying the type of “legs” that newspaper content has online. How much news really lives online after a couple of days, and furthermore, if the news does live, will anyone pay to see it?
The New York Times used to make the archives of articles available only via purchase. I was one of the unlucky few who had to pay for content at one point in time, whether it was for a college-related assignment or something else. But how many people would do that on a regular basis? Probably very few. Needing to go into the archives is a very selective thing. It’s not every day that a large body of web users need to look at articles from 1958. Which is probably one of the reasons why they eventually abandoned that model and opted to make everything available for free, monetized instead via advertising. Now that advertising hasn’t yielded the desired results, they’re ready to bail.
Point I’m making is, to create a third party to monitor content would be a great idea, and I think it’s needed. Had I included a quote or something from the WSJ article, I’m technically using WSJ content and monetizing it via google ad sense (I don’t make much from that, but just using it as an example), and WSJ sees nothing from that. I’m using their content to create content, and they get nothing back from it (although I am including a link that is sending people directly to their site).
Practicality is the issue, I just don’t know how practical something like this would be, considering just how much content comes from big media on a daily basis, and how much doesn’t get used for anything. I mean, if I had a news aggregation site, would I pay like a yearly fee for a license to everything from WSJ.com, when I may only use 2-3 relevant pieces from them a week? And would they get royalties or something from me? Like, how does this work?
Overall, it just seems like a mess to me. Definitely needed, but the model has to be worked out.
Tara Parker-Pope has an interesting piece up over at the New York Times Well blog about training for the New York City Marathon with the run-walk method. What is the run-walk method? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Basically what you do is take your regular timed or distance run, and instead of trying to run the entire length of the workout, you take short walk breaks in between. To be honest, reading this Times article actually gave me some good insight into the way the walk-run method is seen by other runners. Parker-Pope writes,
“I’m using the “run-walk” method, popularized by the distance coach Jeff Galloway, a member of the 1972 Olympic team. When I mentioned this to a colleague who runs, she snickered — a common reaction among purists.”
Now I don’t have too much experience running with other quote unquote “runners,” but I could see how a purist might feel the run-walk method is baloney. Just the idea of running for a minute, then walking for a minute, then running a minute, then walking a minute, and so on, for something like three hours, sounds pretty ridiculous. But it’s not. It’s actually very effective.
One thing I try to tell people who aren’t in the greatest of shape, and are looking to start running as a means to getting fit, is that if you have to know how to run before you can enjoy the act of doing it. It may not be marathon training, maybe it’s just 30 minutes a day to go along with your diet. But you need to know how to run, or else you’ll feel like total crap, get worn down, and incur injuries and just feel fatigued from your exercise. There’s a big difference between running and running yourself ragged.
As a former fat boy, I’m not an advocate of straight running. I can’t even tell you the last time I did a straight run, where I did 6 or 7 miles in a row (granted, not marathon-type training, I admit). At best, you’ll find me running 15 minutes uphill, then breaking for about five minutes of walking, and then another 10 minutes of running, and then a quick 5 minute walk break again. This keeps me fresh and my energy levels steady, my legs don’t get nearly as weary as when I try to do the run straight through. That said, could I do it straight? Yes, I could. And the fact that I still don’t do it says a lot.
Let me give you an example. A few months ago I went to the gym. Normal day there, except I’d gone to bed around 5am the night before, and my legs felt particularly tired. I notice that going to bed after 2am always leaves me in that sort of sluggish zone. But anyway, I get on the treadmill and I just felt that running on an incline on that particular day wasn’t going to be the best idea. So I opted for a flat run, which I think is kind of useless for fat burn, but I’m beyond that point, so it was a moot point. Up until then, on a varying incline between 5-8, I was running a mile at about 7:30. That I was running at 7:30, coming from something like 11 or 12 minutes just a year ago, is saying a lot. But that 7:30 was on an incline. I figured I could beat it on flat surface. But how many miles could I do?
So I started out at a pace of 8.6 mph, which is roughly a 6:58 mile on the treadmill. If the 6 minute mile is the holy grail, for a guy who’s technically not a runner, getting even in the 6 minute range was kind of a thrill. I walked about a quarter of a mile to warm up a bit, and then I knocked out one mile. Then I stopped and walked for a minute to a minute and a half (I wasn’t keeping track really, I just made sure I started the next mile on a whole minute). I continued, ran another mile. Then I walked again. Ran another mile, walked.
Before I knew it, I was keeping up this 6:58 pace, not even remotely tired, and I was about 45 minutes into the run, roughly 5 miles into the run already. I topped out at a little over 7 miles for the hour. The New York City Marathon is 26.219 miles. According to MarathonGuide.com, the average time it took people to finish the New York City marathon was 4 hours and 25 minutes. Now obviously that average is skewed by the people who finish it in much longer times. But just saying, if you can build up your endurance to the point where you can just stay moving on your feet, period, for three hours, the walk-run method should get you through the marathon at a decent pace.
We are in an age where music is given away before it is even attempted to be sold. If you truly want to succeed in this industry, be prepared to not only drop solid music consistently year after year, but to give it away for free. And that’s just a small piece of the equation! You will be lucky if people even want to listen to your free music in this oversaturated, cheapened market.
A lot of people ask me “How do I get my music out there?” I’m not even sure what that means, but here are a few simple suggestions. By writing “Nahright” or the “XXLstaff” on Twitter, “My mixtape is the shit. I’m next up,” you are only setting yourself up for disappointment. By sending the staff members of AllHipHop or HipHopDx your zshare link to your self proclaimed regional smash you will most likely never be heard. These industry professionals deal with incoming mail, meetings, proposals, and phone calls all day and night. They literally get thousands of messages and MP3’s to sift through per week. Be patient!
Do you need someone like me to get your music out there? Yes, most likely. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. I have been patient in building myself a great database of industry contacts who for the most part respect me and what I pitch. Do I always win? Hell no. In response, sure it means a lot to have a reputable name backing your product. But don’t just rely on that plan. Study blueprints. Check your surroundings. Do you even have a buzz within your own network? This meaning your music gets love on your Myspace, Imeem, Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter pages. Does your product have a demand outside of your friends and hometown? Do people come to your shows? Can you sell a few hundred physical copies of your tape?
People from my hometown of Pittsburgh often send me these types of messages.
“Peep this. I’m next up. 412 stand up.”
“Ain’t nobody fuckin with these tracks. I’m the real deal in Pittsburgh.”
“I’m the hottest in the streets right now. Peep the music.”
“This is the new Pittsburgh anthem. Let’s get it! We got em goin crazy!”
While I admire all of your persistence, any half decent executive who cares about the direction of their brand will know if an artist has a buzz. Especially in their own backyard! I never take a day off of trying to hear about a new producer or artist from the Pittsburgh region. When I come home I try to spend as much time in the communities with my peers as possible. Since I am based in NYC, it is difficult to stay up on the exact pulse of the city. Want my attention and everyone else’s? Do it on your own with a team.
If you believe in your product, you shouldn’t even be concerned with who is covering your music. Rock as many local shows as possible, network with other artists and producers, give away music, and become internet savvy. If the music is good, it will stick. If it does not, perhaps you should be looking elsewhere for income and stability.
Take your time with this business. While it does indeed move at light speed, your music and movement should be timeless. Clichés aside, success does not happen overnight. Don’t come into this with the sole intentions of “gettin on” or “blowin up.” If you think that way, it will most likely never happen. If it does, you will be done soon. If it does not, enjoy your steady climb to the top or rise to the middle. Not everyone is going to be a superstar.
I have been involved in this business for four plus years. I have built solid relationships all around the country. I have had great success with developing artists on the strength of an Internet buzz. At the same time, I still have days where I get little to no response from top tier bloggers or sites for what I pitch. Don’t take it personally. And if you do, please use it as motivation to do better. Negativity will get you nowhere. If you believe in your abilities and do it the right way, it will work itself out one way or another.
Follow me at http://twitter.com/ArthurPitt
The underground hip-hop movement of the late 90s/early aughts returned to New York City this weekend, in the form of two sold out live shows from Blackstar (aka Mos Def and Talib Kweli) at the Nokia Theater in Times Square. The event was produced by Peter Oasis’ Live N Direct company (myself included) and Blacksmith Music‘s Corey Smyth.
I spent most of the night bouncing between the middle of the theater and backstage, where there were a host of characters I either a) hadn’t seen in a while (Jean Grae, whatup!) or b) didn’t know altogether (insert random weed carrier’s person’s name here). Even the elusive Damon Dash made an appearance, although he appeared quite drunk sedated.
Sometimes, just being in the music business, going through the various ups and downs, working in it full time on a day to day basis as opposed to being a casual fan, the magic gets lost. No matter what you’re doing– rapping, producing, writing, PR, manager, label exec, journalist, etc– you start to question why you’re even in the game, what the attraction is, what keeps you here. I’m not the only one, I’m just one of the few who’ll admit it.
But there was this one point in the concert, when Kweli was performing “Get By,” where I glanced over at the side of the theater, by the steps leading up to the balcony, and I saw this kid sort of off by himself. I have to imagine he was maybe 25 years old, of Latin descent. And as Kweli’s performing, he’s literally matching him line for line, got the hand movements going, the lyricist bop and all. He’s doing that thing we suburban folks did in the mirror as kids (mine was to Redman’s “Tonight’s Da Night” more often than not), and then I just felt this chill come over me. And I smiled. And I realized again what it’s all for. Just to love music so much that you live in that moment right there.
Here are some pictures and video footage I got from the show. Not the greatest of quality (let me know if you want to donate a camera!), but I do what I can.
Blackstar from stage right
“The Blast” from the balcony
My buddy Elliott Wilson got the entire show from the latter portion of the evening on tape. Bless that man’s soul, because it was damn near 2am when these dudes got on stage, and even the biggest hip-hop fans succumb to weary eyes and legs post midnight.