Friday, October 12, 2007

Bill O'Reilly - Rap Star!

From Illdoctrine, a hip-hop video blog, comes this splendid video that compares Bill O'Reilly to a gangster rapper because of his grandiose self-promotion, his vicious attacks of his peers, and generally getting paid for spreading hate and bigotry. It's good stuff!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Observations on Internet Publishing and Distribution - Radiohead, Trent Reznor, Madonna, etc.

There's been a fair bit of Internet buzz about how Radiohead and, apparently, Nine Inch Nails and Madonna are "dumping the record industry". Some have called it the "last nail in the coffin" of the record industry. I have a couple of points to make about that, as well as some comments about Internet distribution replacing traditional distribution channels.

First, all these bands that are getting this news have the record distributing business to thank for their traditional commercial success. They are all reasonably mainstream (mainstream for their genre?) acts that have reputations built on the many, many years that they recorded and were distributed under major labels. In many ways, their ability to do this is dependent upon the advertising and promotional work that they benefited from during the early years of their careers. So, the music industry as it exists made them. We wouldn't know that these people existed if not for the record industry. Their success away from labels is BECAUSE of the record labels. I think it's important to remember that.

(Generally, the only people who can successfully get away from traditional distribution systems are artists who have a following because of their success in the traditional distribution system. Not just musicians but artists in all media.)

Second, saying that the Internet will magically cure the problems of traditional distribution also ignores the realities of getting successfully distributed and promoted on the Internet. What it does is externalize all the labor of production, promotion, advertising and distribution. It's basically saying to the artist, "Well, in addition to mastering the extremely demanding skills of creating art, you have to not master a bunch of additional skill sets that have nothing whatsoever to do with artistic creation. Now, you've got to prepare files for download, create websites and master the arts of promotion and advertising - all without any real help" or it says, "You've got to have substantial capital investment to hire the people to create your website, promote you and advertise your work."

I mean, this is what I struggle with. I have two skillfully written, interesting novels, but to be successful outside of traditional media distribution channels requires mastering a lot of skills that have nothing whatsoever to do with writing. To be financially successful as a novelist would require convincing thousands of people to buy a book that I wrote. I mean, I have a number of stories and a screenplay up on my site. The feedback I've gotten from my writing is overwhelmingly positive - recently someone told me that my screenplay for The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one of his favorite pieces of literature. But my site statistics do not show me having anything like thousands of people downloading my stories - much less being willing to pay me for it. Even when I included a way to have people pay me for my material, in over two years, no one bothered to do so.

And far from being an apocryphal story - I mean, maybe it's my own fault, maybe my website sucks, maybe I don't do enough promotion or the wrong kind of promotion, whatever - it is typical for artists in all media. It requires the success that comes from being distributed to get to the point where you don't need their distribution in all but a tiny handful of cases. I mean, take Cory Doctorow who has managed to become a successful novelist under alternate systems of distribution. He has an amazing resume, with access to organizational skills and social networking far, far outside the reach of the average (or even quite talented) writer. (It isn't a particular secret that skillful artists often have poor organizational skills in many areas, I think.) Almost no one has the kind of organizational, social skills, contacts and education of someone like Cory Doctorow.

And that is . . . that's really the bar. You have to have skills, contacts and education similar to Cory Doctorow's to make it as a writer without support from the traditional distribution system. This is, I believe, similarly the case with other artists who have managed to make it outside the traditional distribution system - they have these amazing resumes, tremendous organizational skills, social skills and contacts that make it possible for them to succeed.

I don't think a world where, in order to succeed as an artist, you've got to have a skill set like Cory Doctorow's or Immortal Technique's is superior to the one we currently have. It is externalizing the production, distribution, promotional and advertising skills and it also means that almost no artist will "make it". The system that seems poised to replace the traditional distribution system is at least as effective in keeping out artists as the one it seeks to replace.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Back from camping!

Adrienne and I got back from Redwood National Park. We took pictures! But what was best about the park could not be photographed. In Fern Valley the were "fairy waterfalls". Fern Valley is a narrow ravine - calling it a valley is excessive, really - with sheer sides fifty feet high and the whole place is covered with ferns, all up and down the ravine. It was dim and quiet and fey. It was so dim that taking pictures was . . . problematic, and fairy waterfalls simply can't be photographed. At points in the ravine, tiny rivulets of water cascaded over the edge of the ravine so it came down in tiny droplets that glistened like diamonds in the wan light, and the wall behind was covered with tiny, bright green moss like tiny leaves where the droplets clustered. It was magical, and tiny, and beautiful. The ferns, too, were strikingly green against the black of the ravine walls, forming incredible patterns. None of those pictures came out, either, hehe. It was beautiful. We also visited the mouth of the Klamath River, and there are pictures of that, as well as some elk! I saw elk! I'd never seen elk before.

Indeed, the park had Elk Radio. All elk, all the time! No kidding! It was 1610 on the AM dial. There were signs for Elk Radio! Tho', in truth, it was a looping recording telling people that, y'know, elk are dangerous wild animals, and not to approach them. PLUS, fall is mating season, so unless you want to be gored by a rutting bull elk it's extra special important to stay away from them. But, still, Elk Radio!

We also have a new (for us) car, a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid. The trip was also an excuse to put the car through it's paces. It's a very nice car! It also gets very good gas mileage, even on hills and in town. It's a little weird to drive, though. It's a stick shift, which is fine, I drive stick shifts quite well, but because it has an electric motor assisting a lot of times where in another car I'd downshift to accelerate (like, to pass), you don't need to. Also, and this was fun about passing, after you pass and slow down, again, you can watch the power going back into the battery! Neat! Still, I'm really loving the Civic. It's a great little car and I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants a good hybrid and finds the cost of a Prius just a wee bit too expensive.