Here’s the presentation I gave at the 2019 Pop Conference, where the theme was MUSIC, DEATH AND AFTERLIFE. As soon as that theme was announced, I knew I was going to pitch a paper about the odd history of “Seasons in the Sun,” and how/why Terry Jacks made it a multi-million selling success, when multiple artists before him had recorded remarkably similar versions of the song that went nowhere, commercially.
By some miracle, I got through the entire talk without crying once.
Here’s a longer version of the presentation I gave at this year’s Pop Conference, about Too Much Joy’s brief moment of playing protest music, and what that taught me about the skepticism that so often greets artists who take political stands. The first draft, and associated video clips, lasted 30 minutes, so I had to shave off a third of it at PopCon. This post restores the bits it killed me to lop off, although, really, I could keep talking about this for hours. Continue reading
I’ve got a long read over at NPR about the strange case of Bob Seger, who has let over half of his catalog fall out of print physically, while simultaneously releasing just a couple compilations for sale online, and almost nothing at all for on demand streaming. A few folks pointed out that my editor and I missed an obvious headline: “Why Has Bob Serger Taken His Old Records Off The Shelf?”
My iPod has 31,302 songs. 1,173 of them are rated 5 stars. On a recent cross-country drive, listening to a playlist consisting solely of those 5-star songs, I found myself whiling away the miles trying to decipher what set each one apart from the other 30,129.
So I’ve started a Tumblr to record the results of that ongoing effort. I’m going to try to update it daily, but life being what it is that’s more of a wish than a promise.
I did this as a guest post for Hypebot, shortly after YouTube snatched up BandPage. Having seen the power of Pandora’s AMPcast program firsthand, I was a bit amazed tech reporters weren’t paying more attention to how various services were (or were failing to) provide useful tools to the artists in their catalog. Continue reading
This one was presented at the 2011 Pop Conference. David Lowery, who also presented that year, suggested that reluctance to license music to commercials was mostly about class, as you have to be pretty privileged in the first place to turn down money. That didn’t make me feel much better, but another thing he told me sure did: he’d spent time as a quant for some investment firm, and he said the traders there had a very unique take on being an unrecouped band. “That means you won!” they told him, when he explained how major label contracts tended to work. The way they looked at it, being unrecouped was less a mark of failure than of getting the better end of a transaction.
The closest my band, Too Much Joy, ever came to breaking up was in 1991, as we argued about whether we should accept a lucrative offer to record a radio jingle for Budweiser, which I personally considered the second worst beer in America.
The argument began in our manager’s office. My position was not nuanced: commercials were antithetical to every reason we’d formed our rock band in the first place. This was debased, and rock bands – especially indie rock bands — needed to be pure. Continue reading
The piece below was originally published in 2010 on the Rhapsody blog, but I guess some time after I left they changed blogging platforms and didn’t think keeping several years’ worth of entries worth the hassle of shifting them over. As you’ll see if you keep reading, my trip to NOLA as a guest of Air Traffic Control felt pretty profound at the time, and that feeling has only grown since then — to the point where I wound up on ATC’s board, and am now its Treasurer (ATC has since re-branded itself Revolutions Per Minute). I attended another retreat in 2012, and brought along a film crew from Google to document the shenanigans. All pics were taken by retreat attendees, but I’ve lost the original photo credits, so if one is yours, just let me know.
I just spent three of the best days of my life. At a band camp.
Well, technically it was an Artist Activism Retreat, which sounds a lot more lofty, but still doesn’t hint at the transcendent joy of the experience. And it took place in New Orleans, which explains some but not all of that joy.
Explaining the rest of the joy might not be possible. But I am going to try. Continue reading
While the amazing storage capacity mp3 players made possible at the turn of this century felt pretty profound, the Walkman was a more revolutionary consumer electronic device, as this presentation from the 2010 Pop Conference attempts to explain. I searched in vain when writing this for a Malcolm McLaren quote I remembered from the late-’70s/early-’80s, in which he damningly contrasted white people hiding behind Walkman headphones with black youth who more proudly imposed their soundtracks on the world around them. Like a lot of things McLaren said, it was savvy, provocative, and wrong. Turns out those headphones had more power to shape the environment.
The world changed, quietly, on June 22nd 1979, the day Sony unveiled the first “personal stereo” to skeptical journalists in Tokyo .
Presented at the 2009 Pop Conference, and later published as a chapbook which you can purchase for 99 cents from Feedback Press, or from Amazon if you prefer an electronic edition. I have no humorous anecdotes about this one, as they are all contained within the paper itself. But I should probably explain that it’s broken up into pretentiously-titled sections, including an overture and a coda, because that seemed like the best way of honoring an album that is so lovably, ridiculously overwrought. If it’s not clear from everything that follows, I still adore this record. There’s a lot to admire in being ridiculous and overwrought.
Overture: The Cover
It’s 1977, bleeding into 1978. I am 12 years old. This is on my wall,
This presentation from the 2007 Pop Conference was oddly controversial, in that during the Q&A I was taken to task for supposedly lauding a future full of white guitar players. If you think the paper’s title is one more example of cloistered music critics privileging indie rock, well, then my saying “Good News For Yo La Tengo just sounds funnier than Good News For Luther Vandross” probably isn’t going to change your mind. But the point remains that the examples that follow have analogs in every genre. I do think Indie Rock is more prone than most genres to view a gap between critical and commercial success as something desirable, though, so I’m particularly interested to see what happens if/when there are more than just psychological rewards for being a critic’s darling.
I am here to make some proclamations about the future of the music business. I should provide a couple caveats at the outset, however. First, I will confess I’m not 100% sure whether what follows is a prediction or a just a wish. I’m pretty confident (so, like, 99%) it’s the former, but I offer that 1% of doubt as a little place of refuge anyone who disagrees with me can go try to build a city where all the citizens do their best to keep the existing, depressingly diseased music business functioning as-is indefinitely. Good luck with that. Continue reading