A Brief Rundown on Awards Shows I Don’t Write About, and Why

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be writing about the Billboard Music Awards. A week or so ago, I wrote about the ACM Awards, and a couple of months ago I basically refused to write about the Academy Awards. While certainly no one has demanded my reasons for skipping the things I skip, given that I write about the ACM Awards, the Billboard Awards and, in June, the Nebula Awards, it’s probably worth taking the time to say a few words about the awards shows I haven’t ever covered. Generally speaking, if they’re on this list, they’ll probably never appear here, but that might not be true! I could get the bug one year to write about one of them. But probably not.

The SAG Awards/The DGA Awards
These are a part of “official” awards season, and as such are considered important by people who care about such things. I do not actually care about the receipt of awards! I care only about the process of judgment and nomination. These aren’t really a spectacle, and they’re also professional awards given by members of a profession to members of the same profession. As such, they have about as much entertainment appeal as a company holiday party. I also find that the more serious and balanced an award is, the less fun it is for me to write about, because the ones that have a transparent, exclusionary agenda are the ones that are funniest to me. You’ll notice that the Academy Awards are the hardest for me to write about every year, and that this is not entirely because I rarely have anything to say, particularly, about movies1.

Part of it is also because it matters too much. Even the other of the big three – The Emmys and the Grammys – are still much harder to take seriously, because the field they represent is so wide that a singular voice about it is nearly-impossible to establish. Television is such a crowded field that it’s apparent to anyone that looks at it even un-seriously (and the average American looks at it 4 hours a day, so even the most unthoughtful benighted person is liable to have experienced enough of it to have what could be called a serious opinion), and music is such a personally-experienced thing (the estimate is that the average person listens to music 4 hours a day also, which actually makes me question the accuracy of these estimates – to wit: are they actually surveying people, or did the statisticians just ball up their questionaires, announced “4 hours for both!” and then run off to get drunk at lunch?), that there is a much higher likelihood tha they’ll bristle at the selection being blinkered and slow to respond to change. Since the average person sees much less than four hours worth of movies a day (that’s about 2 movies, or 700 a year, and the average person sees somewhere between 20 and 30, which is about one every 2 weeks.)

The SAG/DGA awards, however, take their voters from among their constituency. They send out screeners and ask for consideration, and the people that are voting know about them because this is the work of their colleagues, in their environment. So these are generally more considered and more closed-off seeming. They combine the weight of a peer award with the excitement of, well, a peer award.

All of this is the long way of saying: The Academy Awards are the forwardmost part of an awards cycle that includes these trade awards, about which most people (who have only seen 20 movies this year, of which maybe a quarter or so are among the nominees) don’t see enough of the field, or have the length of consideration, to argue with. That makes it easier to be funny about, but also more frustrating, because people accept their existence as authorial. The SAG/DGA awards, as stepping stones on the road to Oscar, are thereby both too earnestly given and too poorly-considered to be worth fodder. Also, it’s really hard for me to write about movies.

The Hugos
I’ve already written about the Locus awards, and intend to write about the Nebulas here in a few weeks, but the Hugos are nearly impossible to write about. Usually fan-voted awards are low-hanging fruit around here2, but even in their best years, the Hugos are just too silly to take seriously. They’re fan-chosen, but only a specific set of fans are choosing them, and the bloc that chooses them is so very small (it’s actually the members of the World Science Fiction Society, the membership for which is a $40 donation, which ostensibly also provides the dues-payer to a ticket to WorldCon, the convention built around the WSFS) that it’s hardly representational of the fan consensus around sff to begin with. The last couple of years a couple of groups (one of which is rather distasteful and reactionary, the other virulent and actively hateful) have actually hijacked the voting process. This could mean that in the future there will be a different process and it might be something somewhat different. But for right now, it remains a weirdly-selected option voted on by a small number of people3, which would be fine, except for that by choosing to write about the Nebulas or the Locus awards, I’m also choosing a wider selection of more-representative (albeit more serious) works. It’s basically on the same level as any given publication’s list of the best books of the year, and I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m arguing with those yet4.

The AVN Awards
It’s been done. While the AVN Awards are, themselves, one of the most impossibly misguided5 things ever televised (they’re nonstop hilarious every single year, for any of several dozen reason, often simultaneously), pornography itself makes me deeply uncomfortable, so the idea of an authoritative take on an awards show built around a thing that seems extraordinarily distasteful is, itself, a pretty difficult thing to figure out how to write around.  Besides, having spent most of my adulthood avoiding pornography vis-a-vis the aforementioned deep discomfort, I’d have to look up a bunch of those words, and that doesn’t seem like it would be fun.

The Spike Guys Choice Awards
The elusive endpoint of the EGOTSGCA, The Spike Guys Choice Awards are, alongside the Razzies (see below) and the SAG Awards, one of the awards shows that I’m casting onto the reject pile permanently here, despite eyeballing them every single year. Part of the problem with the SGCA are that there’s simply no editorial rhyme or reason to them. Every year the antlers6 go to people for categories that are clearly made-up nonsense just to get them onstage. On the one hand, it’s hard not to admire that kind of moxy: this is an awards show where the awards are clearly assembled to get as many television-friendly people into the room at once and then reward them for existing. Lots of awards shows try to do exactly that thing under the auspices of being, say, a movie-awards show or a music-awards show7, so it’s at least respectable to see the pretense mostly abandoned. On the other hand, since the nominations are basically nonsense and, even though they’re publicly-voted, the winners don’t actually speak to any kind of skill or popularity beyond I RECOGNIZE THAT NAME LOL, the awards show itself is truly, deeply boring.

The Razzies
Every year, there’s an awards show dedicated to pointing out the worst in cinema, and every year I think it would be funny to treat it like an actual awards show. Here’s the problem: it isn’t one. I mean, beyond its stated aim, which is as a parody and a callout for people doing bad work, it’s actually the worst kind of publicity-generation/popularity contest awards presentation possible. On top of which, the sense of humor that is displayed in both the “hilarious” “jokes” they make out of the titles of nominated movies, on top of the absolute lack of critical assessment used in assemblage makes it about as funny as any other hacky, titilating-the-choir pseudo-comedy. All of which is a shame, because the Golden Raspberry awards, for their first few years, were actually an interesting and thoughtful bit of comedy in and of themselves. Now they’re actually more like a parody of the parody – rather than saying anything about the state of movie awards in general (and, honestly, someone should be able to do something better with this stuff, it’s not like the material isn’t there), they exist to make the same jokes you just made with your friends about, say, the latest Transformers movie, except they get to do it in public. It’s indescribably dumb.

A Bunch of Really Serious Awards
It would be funny, to me, to do the Pulitzers8, or the PEN awards, or the Peabody Awards, because it would make me laugh to give such highfalutin awards the ol’ People’s Choice Awards treatment. The only real thing stopping me is that, as considered, actually-worthwhile awards, there is basically no reason to call into question their editorship. While the Pulitzer Prize, say, or the Man Booker Prize, or whatever, are all certainly not without scandal and criticism, they are also not really the sort of thing that holds up well to being awarded to Mrs. Coach’s Hair. The Academy Awards are serious, but also very stupid. The Nebula Awards are serious, but also in a field about which I know more than enough to feel grounded in my criticism. The Tony Awards (which I have yet to write about) are the most tonally-bizarre9 awards given out in any given year, and are fascinating as a result, and so all three are fair game. But anything more serious, or more able to be taken seriously is, then, a thing that leaves out the pageantry in favor of the honor.

And that’s what all this is about really: how much of the entertainment landscape exists to prop up the pageantry of people rewarding other people as a marketing gimmick. If the show is beyond the marketing gimmick, then it isn’t really doing the same thing. The Tonys are positioned at the beginning of the touring season for the musicals and theatre pieces they’re honoring. The Academy Awards are positioned (now, in modernity) at the beginning of the fallow period for theatres, and also when most of these things are coming out in either wide release or home video. The Grammys (the most transparently marketing-based) even elide from consideration all fourth-quarter records, cutting off their “year” at the end of September, because the big holiday releases don’t need a sales bump in January10. The Emmys are there to get people to start the reruns of the stuff they’ve missed11. All of them serve less as recognition and more as dollar-directing events.

In summation: more to come, lots of awards presentations, lots of getting annoyed at categorical vagueness (The Emmys changed their rules this year, so they’ll be even more annoying than usual). Stay tuned!

1 I tried, early on in this blog’s run, to lay out why writing about movies is such a challenge for me, but the short version of it is basically that I find conventional film-making to be not that interesting for experiential reasons – I’m watching the same thing is a bunch of other people, except I had to leave my house and give someone money to do it*, so it just doesn’t hold my attention. I watch plenty of movies, but I watch them at home, where I can stop the ones that annoy or insult me, or rewind, or pet the cat or play 0hh1 during them or whatever. The point is, the ones that engage me intellectually are generally the ones that are flawed or are failures, and the ones that I think are fun aren’t anything I want to write about, except insofar as I like sharing my enthusiasm. So something like your average prestige picture is not only going to probably be dull to watch, I’m also going to have a hard time ginning up anything to say about it that isn’t “those people delivered their lines convincingly” or “movie cameras sure make stuff look good” or “why weren’t there any black people?”
* I freely admit that this opinion seems really weird to people, but it’s why in an average year I go to see probably 50 or so live music shows and, like, two movies: the movie is the same thing for everybody that watches it, the band is going to be doing something they don’t do every night. Even a band that safeguards against that kind of thing, the feeling in the crowd is going to be different, the response is going to be different, many aspects of the show are completely out of anyone’s control, and everyone in the room plays a part of it. Staring at lights on a screen are not as dynamic or rewarding, even though sometimes it’s a good way to tell a story. So my ten bucks is going to the unique thing, not the thing I can get for cheaper without sitting in a movie theater just by waiting several months. The magic of the cinema itself – of sitting in the dark room with the light and the celluloid – is something that people whose work I respect and admire have written about extensively, and I confess to being completely beyond it, although I like film criticism as a writing mien, so I’m glad that they love it as much as they do.
2 I actively look forward to writing about the Peoples Choice Awards, for example, and have made special dispensation for writing about bestsellers lists and the Maxim Hot 100 because of their “human-chosen award” basis, even though neither of them is technically a presentation of any real sort (one being a mathematical list and the other a photo gallery).
3 I’m unsure how many of the people that vote on the Hugos are also Nebula voters, but I suspect the percentage is pretty high, and the Hugos generally come off like the Nebulas would if they were drunk and looking for a party.
4 Except the aforementioned Maxim Hot 100, which is under the purview of one magazine, but is publicly voted upon. This is why Maxim’s list is fascinating, and the similarly-themed and -timed FHM list – announced the day before this post runs** – simply isn’t.
** congratulations Michelle Keegan, whoever you are!
5 and I mean that “impossibly” in all but the very most literal sense – if they didn’t actually exist, I would never believe that they could.
6 the actual Guys Choice award is a pair of antlers. Wikipedia says it’s because of the stag, which makes more sense than my assumption, which is that everyone who wins one and is present for the awards ceremony secretly wants to be Gaston, who, you’ll remember, uses antlers in all of his decorating. Hi, Amanda.
7 Viacom’s other major television properties, BET and MTV, manage to put together entertaining and much more worthwhile awards-show programming despite restrictions on their subject matter. Sometimes too much is just too much.
8 if this piece seems weirdly uncalled-for, it may be illuminating to know that it started out as precisely that: a roundup of the Pulitzer Prize winners, and a comedic declaration of their worthiness. I had to scrap it because it was really, really hard to make funny.
9 after almost 70 years, the Tonys are still weirdly split in the exact same way that theatre itself is in the post-talkie, post-television, post-modern landscape: divided between serious, deeply-felt things and also costume musicals. It’s really, deeply fucking weird. Also the Tonys are given for live events, and I don’t go to see Broadway shows, because I live in the middle of the country.
10 this is why Taylor Swift wasn’t much of a presence at this year’s Grammys – her record, one of the only ones that sold in 2014 period, was a late-year release, and thus still selling briskly and not in need of the sweet, sweet label-infusing cash bump that the Grammys give it. Excpect her, completely by coincidence, to win a record number of Grammys next year. You heard it here first, folks.
11 I mean, the fact that this is probably not effective anymore doesn’t mean it wasn’t the case.


Shamelessly Punting: Every Song on the Most Recent Reissue of Little Earthquakes, Ranked

Sugar1
Winter
Precious Things
Silent All These Years2
Take to the Sky
Precious Things (live)
Crucify
Little Earthquakes
Little Earthquakes (live)
Me and a Gun3
Here in My Head
Crucify (live)
Mother (live)4
Flying Dutchman
Girl
Ode to the Banana King, Part One5
Mother
Tear in Your Hand6
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Mary
Leather
Humpty Dumpty
China
Song for Eric
Upside Down
The Pool
Thoughts
Sweet Dreams
Any interview that Tori took too many drugs before and talks, at great lengths, about things tha make literally no sense to anyone but possibly her

Video footage of Tori Amos eating soup
Stubbing your toe on a fire hydrant while “Silent All These Years” plays in the background
Getting hit with a yardball while “Winter” plays in the background
“Winter” remixed with the sound of someone stirring a big bowl of macaroni and cheese
Happy Phantom (live)
Watching someone watch their house burn down
Eating spoiled oysters
Having to live in a world where only one ear of every pair of headphones in the world works
Watching someone eat spoiled oysters while they watch their house burn down
Literally anything on the planet, ever at all
Happy Phantom

1 Guys. It’s not even on the album proper. Seriously. That’s insanity. Sheer insanity. If this song was in the running where “Happy Phantom” is, this would be a bulletproof, A+ album.
2 “Silent All These Years,” “Precious Things,” and “Winter” actually appear sequentially on the record, albeit in reverse order of their placement on this list. Hell of a stretch. Shame how it ends. It should end with “Sugar,” though.
3 as its own song, “Me and a Gun” might finish a little lower. It’s impressively gut-punching, sure, but is actively painful to listen to. As the introduction to “Little Earthquakes,” however, it’s a much better song, as it allows “Little Earthquakes” to both build on its tension and provide the release. I realize this is less than entirely the point, but it remains the case.
4 “Mother,” along with “Tear in Your Hand”, is absolute proof that record production in the early nineties was not in a good place. The live version obviates much of this.
5 The B-Sides for every Tori album contain at least one song that is meant to suggest psychotropic drugs and/or silliness. This is the best of those.
6 the production on this song is really bad. I don’t know if it’s a hedge against not having something radio-ready, or if it’s just a coincidence of the song’s construction that draws attention to it. I prefer to think that it’s a trade-off: since this is the song that precedes the a capella “Me And a Gun” they just shoved two songs worth of production on top so the “average amount of production time per song” evened out.

The 2015 ACM Awards

Guys, it’s the 50th ACM Awards! It’s weird to see an ACM Award ceremony advertise its historical focus, since I sort-of thought that was what they were doing the whole time anyway. But this one is going to be extra-special historical, and also is going to have a bunch of duets and stuff. So it’s totally not going to be exactly like every single other ACM Awards ceremony, because. Because.

Still and all, the ACM Awards are largely nonsense-avoidant1, and they’re less repetitive than other awards shows, so it’s a delight to be able to stand before you and tell you how things oughta be. As per usual custom, I’m skipping the radio awards this year because I don’t listen to terrestrial radio at all, and have absolutely no way to know how these things are judged, let alone who deserves to win them.

Enjoy!

Songwriter of the Year
This is the thinnest this field has been in years. There were lots of good country singles last year, but for some reason none of the writers of those singles is up here. Certainly Rodney Clawson can’t still be a going concern, despite just winning the ASCAP award2. Ash Gorley should probably win some kind of award for being able to write in partnership with a bunch of other songwriters. Chris Tompkins wrote Carrie Underwood’s two best singles (“Before He Cheats” and “Blown Away”), but that’s not much of a thing to prop up a nomination. Luke Laird is a great producer who is also sort of a songwriter of necessity – there’s nothing wrong with his songs, as such, he’s just not as good at it, and seems like someone who gets a songwriting credit by “finishing” songs he’s producing. Josh Osborne works frequently with Shane McAnally, and co-wrote both Blake Shelton’s “I Really Shouldn’t Drink Around You” and “Lies of the Lonely,” which is the ballad-y song that Mrs. Coach’s hair sings in Nashville. He also co-wrote “Merry-go-Round” a couple of years ago. So at least there’s one good option.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Josh Osborne

Vocal Event of the Year
This is such a weird category. Theoretically it goes to a performance that people saw that was outside of the studio-recording-set that forms the basis for the rest of these nominations. Practically, it enables the ACM people to give an award to somebody they think needs an extra award without having to have a very good reason for it. This year it’s especially weak, which fits both the theme of the ACM Awards generally and also means that the field is barely worth discussing. As such, it goes to Mrs. Coach’s hair.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair

Video of the Year
I’m unsure of what, exactly, the feature of the videos for “Somethin’ Bad” or “Cop Car” that makes them award-worthy is meant to be, so they’re out. I understand the nominations for “American Kids” and “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” but that doesn’t make them any less dull. “Drunk On a Plane” is a terrible song, but at least the video is mildly funny. Kind of.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dierks Bentley, “Drunk on a Plane”

Song of the Year
So, on the ACM Awards website, there’s a headshot of the performer whose song is nominated in each category3. For whatever reason (it’s not alphabetical order) the picture of Kenny Chesney is at the beginning of three categories in a row. It’s really unnerving, so obviously he can’t win any of them. That’s just how it works. I always forget that the ACM awards have an expecially weird “year,” and that they count a single release as a new release year for a song, which is how “song of the year” nominations can roll in for songs that are two or three years old. This also means, however, that I had to think about “Give Me Back My Hometown” again, which makes me surly. Let’s just give it to “Follow Your Arrow” and call it a day before I get too grumpy here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”

Single Record of the Year
Somehow, “Follow Your Arrow” isn’t here. That makes this somewhat more difficult. We can elminiate Florida/Georgia Line and Lee Bice on general principles, and Kenny Chesney on the principles listed above. That leaves us Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic” and Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk on a Plane.” “Drunk on a Plane” is still a terrible song, and while “Automatic” isn’t a very good song, it’s not terrible. Sigh.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Miranda Lambert, “Automatic”

Album of the Year
Every year I begin the ACM Awards happy, because the ceremony is brief and relatively-fun to watch, and every year as I slog through the slate of nominees, I am filled with a deep dread at the state of commercial country music. Moreso than other awards shows because 1) the ACM Awards don’t even generally deal with the stuff that’s any fun on a pop music level and 2) it’s really dire right now. Anyway, that Little Big Town record isn’t so bad, I guess.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Little Big Town, Pain Killer

New Artist of the Year
I actually like, at least a little bit, some material by all three of these people. That’s kind of a pick-me-up in the middle of this morass of terrible country music.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sam Hunt. Shoutout to Howard Kremer.

Vocal Group of the Year
Last year I lamented that there was no “non-vocal group” award, this year I’ll point out that every time I see “vocal group” I think of, like, a doo-wop group. Or a barbershop quartet. And frankly, I will pretty happily devote a lot of words to any country barbershop quartet that gets nominated for any award anywhere. It’s the least I could do, really. In fact, having imagined such heights, it’s extra-sobering to be crashed back into a world where Rascal Flatts is still nominated for awards. Isn’t that the most depressing thing you’ve ever heard now? Now that you’ve thought about the glory of a country music barbershop quartet?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Zac Brown Band

Vocal Duo of the Year
I like to imagine this category as a pair of rivalries. The Brothers Osborne are resentful of The Swon Brothers for their word-order discrepancy, and Dan + Shay are fighting the war between the plus sign and the ampersand with Maddie & Tae. That would leave the Florida-Georgia Line as the only ones without a rival, except for their rival is the entirety of human taste and decency. I feel like these entries are making progressively less sense as this goes on.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maddie & Tae

Female Vocalist of the Year
Hey! I almost like almost all of these people! If you throw out Carrie Underwood4 and Martina McBride5 it’s like a category full of deserving nominees! I actively like the Brandy Clark record and the Kacey Musgraves record, but I’m not sure which part of those albums (which both came out in 2013) are under consideration here. “Stripes” isn’t a better song than “Merry-Go-Round” but it’s probably a better song than “Follow Your Arrow,” which I think is what’s being compared.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brandy Clark, unless I’m wrong about what’s under consideration here, in which case it’s Kacey Musgraves.

Male Vocalist of the Year
There are six nominees here, instead of five. The implication here is that the field is just so crowded they had to come up with an extra nominee. That is, of course, pure nonsense. That is not what happened, because these are the same six people that always get nominated for this blighted, godforsaken award. There are, like, nine people total that ever get nominated here. I have said my whole entire piece about each of them over and over again here, as well as in the pieces about the CMAs or the Grammys or whatever. Suffice it to say, I remain unimpressed, but I still think Blake Shelton seems like a swell guy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Blake Shelton

Entertainer of the Year
There’s another of those “repeated headshots” moments6 with Jason Aldean, except he’s making a really stupid face in his picture. Anyway, this award is so transparently set up to go to Garth Brooks (who is having a really long, protracted return to the public eye) that there’s not a whole lot else to say about it. The ACM Awards are the less-flashy, smaller-scale but apparently classier country awards ceremony of the year, but increasingly they’re becoming victim to the sort of interindustry politics that were responsible for their creation in the first place. As such, the whole thing is more subject than most things to the ever-shrinking market for radio-driven music in general, let alone country music. That the ACM hooked itself along with terrestrial radio was a boon to it for many years, but as it becomes more and more shackled by that decision, the awards themselves become increasingly difficult to consider as an entity. On the one hand, that’s a shame, but on the other hand that leaves the ACM in a better position when whatever is going on with the record-advertising arm of the record-selling wing of the music industry is finally solidified. So, in short: this one should get better? Or at least less repetitive. Or, at the very least, it’s entirely possible that the mainstream-country promotion cycle could get shorter, and thus I wouldn’t have to try to find something new to say about songs that came out two or sometimes even three years ago. Here’s hoping.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Garth Brooks

1 insofar as any awards show is nonsense-avoidant
2 I would have informed you sooner of his unsuitability for that award via one of these writeups, but the existence of ASCAP fills me with a blood-boiling rage, and also the awards aren’t televised, so it’s basically out of the question.
3 even if, as is the case for “Song of the Year” and “Video of the Year,” the performer is not necessarily the person nominated for the award.
4 I mean, I’m still a human being, I do like “Before He Cheats” and, as mentioned, “Blown Away,” but she’s still basically only got the one tool in that bag.
5 Martina McBride’s semi-comeback is welcome aesthetically, but also serves as a useful reminder that she still does not sing good songs. The end.
6 I’m assuming that, at this point, the difficulty of thinking of a way to dig up something to say about these stupid entries has meant that these sentences are only coherent in my brain.


A Streaming Pile of Truth: Tidal Music

So, after much opinion-having, it seems like it’s time ot actually turn the key in the free Tidal trial and give it a go. I am, after all, one of those people who’s pouring money into the music-making economy, and I do like Jay-Z, so theoretically I should be right there in the target audience. The trial I signed up for was for the high-quality super-fancy “you probably aren’t good enough for this” tier, under the logic that if I was going to enjoy anything about it, it might be a better stream or something.

Right away, I am made to feel more optimistic: the first two things that happen are a sign-up screen that allows you to just give them an email address (which will double as your username) and a password, rather than sign in through your email itself. It also gives you an option to sign in through facebook, but that’s not actually a problem, and (this is the second thing) it doesn’t automatically sign you up for email updates, of which I cannot imagine the content1.

Then you’re into a brief tutorial, the content of which is probably ingenious/delusional enough to spend some time on. See, the assumption that the Tidal tutorial makes is that you’ve never used a streaming service before which even if it’s true, provides information that one would have to be unfamiliar with the use of computers to play music in general. However, it is also the first sign that Tidal’s would-be audience is not the same as the audience for other streaming services. Where Spotify assumes that you’ve been using iTunes or whatever already, and pretty much offers the tutorial only if you need it, Tidal is designed for the high-end consumer, and thus is geared toward providing them information about this formerly-plebian construction.

The second major sign that this is music by and for the fancy-aspirational is the list of affiliated sound-snake-oil producers. They got basically all of them2, although to their defense, it’s essentially just by providing app support3. Clearly, however, the number of snakeoil cosigners is a sign that this thing runs a little bit deeper than just the old-style record-selling titans. Allow the following prediction, then, to stand: if Tidal succeeds, it will be through their affiliation with brands that have already located and cornered the market on “people who want to spend more money on their listening than it’s worth”. This makes sense: people that are buying actual, quality stereo equipment are playing records or whatever on it (or running their FLAC files through their stereo head, which is also very easy to do). You need to find the people that don’t know what they’re doing, but like the high price point.

You’re then confronted with an array of “curated” content – playlists by The-Dream and Jay-Z are front and center, as are a couple of the videos that represent Tidal’s “exclusives”. I didn’t watch whatever the eleven minute Alicia Keys thing was, and the Beyonce and Rihanna videos didn’t offer much new4. Kendrick’s “King Kunta” video wasn’t so bad. The rest of it seemed pretty much in line with the rest: music videos, brief featurettes. Maybe someday a lecture. Moving on.

Now, theoretically, this feature has concentrated on the radio aspect of streaming services. Tidal doesn’t have one5. It has a bunch of these playlists, though. The celebrity ones are fine, if incoherent – the only real surprise to the Jay-Z curated Tidal playlist is the presence of a Toby Keith song (and not even a good one at that). Marissa Paternoster’s (of the Screaming Females) playlist was maybe the most fun, but was still pretty clearly just the first thirty or so songs she thought of when called upon to make a playlist. And that’s sort of it: the word they use is “curated,” but the appropriate word is really “listed”. These are playlists in the most direct, unaffected usage of the word. As such, they’re fine, but that’s not really the same thing as a curated experience.

The non-celebrity playlists are not really any better. You first select a “mood” that you want your playlist to fall into, and then you select a playlist that’s available in that “mood”. The sub-moods6 then take you to a playlist of somewhere between 1.5 and 3 hours long that makes a sort of vaguely-linked sense. It would be easy to get bogged down in the failings of these playlists to function as playlists, so I’ll merely state that there is some real coherence problems, and that while the depth of catalog (and, theoretical knowledge of catalog) is definitely there, the playlists include The Cows as being an act associated with the Replacements in the “American Underground”, or the Jesus and Mary Chain’s ninety-second “Sunray” in their “Noise” playlist (which playlist is their weakest, as most of it comes from the same Sub Rosa comp anyway, but once again, this is me not getting bogged down in this).

The playlists, though, are really the evidence that this is not geared toward, say, Rihanna fans7. Even the ostensible hip-hop themed playlists are heavy on older-people legacy acts, and the non-hip-hop themed playlists are pointed squarely at people who, at one point, were cool in the musical sense, or at least thought of themselves as such. Spotlights on The Replacements, R.E.M. and U2 are great (I certainly enjoyed them), but what is the goal for a loose conglomerate of current money-making musical people, at least half of whom are not in any way a part of the audience for the bulk of the material in the curated section of this library?

Anway, ours is not to question the pandering business practices, but to talk about the streaming service itself. It’s fine, I guess. For all that it’s twice the price, and for all the the sound quality is heavily touted, it doesn’t actually sound any better than Spotify at 320 Ogg Vorbis (you can change the quality of the stream in Spotify with a setting, which makes this whole thing pretty silly). I didn’t feel like trying to wear out my data connection, so I didn’t try it on my phone, but on an android tablet it did fine, and I couldn’t ever get the iOS app to work.

The interface is no worse than Spotify’s web player, but also no better, which means it’s better than, say, Amazon’s music player but not as all-encompassing as iTunes. Or at least not as ostentatious. It’s also not particularly well-laid out, however: several times in the normal course of use I accidentally triggered a control (or, on one occasion, an entirely new playlist) merely because it was placed too close to something else I was doing8. It’s 2015, so it’s no surprise that something meets the minimum standards of usefulness in its design, but it is still full of quirky annoyances, and it also has a real saturation problem: there aren’t a lot of places on the screen you can click and not trigger something.

The catalog is smaller-ish than Spotify’s, but mostly seems to have the same things in it – in a completely nonscientific test, I found that I couldn’t find anything that was on Tidal and not Spotify, but I found several things that were on Spotify but not Tidal.

The truth of the matter is that the thing that would make Tidal stand out – or in any way differentiate it – is the curated content, which is pretty thin at best, and generally-dumb at worst9. I suppose there’s some way it could someday be in demand for the exclusivity of its content, but as it is there simply isn’t anything there that’s worth paying $20 for, let alone $20 every month.

I guess the point here is that there’s no surprise in Tidal: it seemed like a weird vanity project for people that want to be a supportive part of a weird vanity project, and that remains exactly what it is. The expensive version doesn’t offer anything that paid Spotify doesn’t offer, and the cheap version offers even less than the free version of Spotify. If Tidal serves any industry-useful purpose, it’s as an effective advertisement for Spotify.

That would be depressing and counter to Tidal’s goals of fairly compensating artists and all that, but as I’ve previously discussed, that’s all flim-flam anyway, so I guess it’s all a wash.

Oh, and just a couple of minutes ago, two days after I declined to sign up for emails, it sent me an email. So they can’t even get that part right. Good riddance.

1 I suppose technically there’s a third enticement, which is of a writhing semi-clad Rihanna behind the sign-in information. I suppose if Rihanna is one of the whatever-is-meant-by-business-partners you’d not only be shrewd to use her as an enticement, but kind of silly not to, given her own natural penchant for using semi-clad Rihanna to sell us all on Rihanna. This is by no means a complaint.
2 the major exceptions being Bose, which, as the reigning kings of Better Sound Through Marketing, probably don’t need this kind of business relationship (it might damage their brand to be associated with something so pedestrian as actual music) and Beats, the reasons for which are their obvious associations with both Apple music, whose market share is the one being eroded in the first place, and their concurrent affiliation with the soon-to-be-different or relaunched or something Beats Music.
3 or, in the case of McIntosh, a helpful reminder that speakers totally exist
4 more semi-clad Rihanna, though. They lean on that almost as much as they lean on audio quality.
5 actually, this could theoretically be another point in its favor for me as a consumer: I don’t really use radio services, but I like other people’s playlists*. Unfortunately, providing playlists is not actually a “value add”, as it’s not like they’re thin on the ground out there.
* or, OPP, which if you know me, you know I’m down with.
6 there’s not really a better term for these, since there isn’t really a unifying feature of the category below “mood” – they’re not really “genre” or “scene” selections so much as they are “weird, vaguely-linking names for playlists”.
7 it is entirely possible that many of them are leftover from the original, pre-Jay-Z version of Tidal, given their makeup and apparent demographic aim.
8 this wouldn’t affect every user, but it’s worth noting that because it doesn’t have a standalone program, and you’re left with the in-browser player, a couple of my chrome extensions also caused control problems. Most annoyingly, the actual audio settings are located in the bottom right corner, underneath the feedly button. It’s not a major annoyance, and who knows who else would have the problem, but it is an argument in favor of having the thing stand alone.
9 I am still not getting bogged down in this stuff, but I will say: the playlists being (at best) inaccurate is also its own problem: what person, looking for context for The Replacements, is going to be happy to find The Cows? What would-be noise neophyte is going to enjoy, without context, the songs by Spike Jones and The Grateful Dead*. Seriously, every playlist has at least one huge problem like this.
* not to mention Merzbow’s collaboration with the dude from Sutekh Hexen.


the 2015 MTV Movie Awards

Ah, summer awards season. While the real awards season represents the end of winter, and the end of the year, and the crowning of some fairly prestigious new artistic royalty, the summer award season represents award shows that are full of ‘splosions and dancin’. They begin, generally, with the MTV Movie Awards. So let’s see who’s going to be dubiously honored with whatever it is they give these people.

Onward!

Best On-Screen Transformation
The MTV Movie Awards do not even pretend to be the same as a real awards show, and thus, as ever, grant awards to categories that seem like the kind of thing you’d come up with when you were a bored teenager. The nominees, however, are dullsville. Steve Carrell applied a nose, Zoe Saldana got painted green, Eddie Redmayne stopped walking, The Kid From Boyhood aged in a completely natural fashion, and what’s done to Elizabeth Banks to make her Effie Trinket is literally four years old at this point.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair, which has transformed from a force of nature attached to an impressive actress to an even better force of nature attached to a pretty good performance on a hammy, terrible soap opera.

Best Comedic Performance
Big ups to the MTVMAs1 for not segregating out their performances. That said, there’s sort of an existential question at play here. Namely: what is a “comedic” performance? Is it a performance whose primary aim is comedy, or does it count if it’s a dramatic performance in which there are also laughs? Unless they mean it in the traditional, theatrical sense, in which case a comedic performance is something completely different. Anyway, I tend to think, in 2015, in America, a “comedic” performance is a performance that is primarily comedic, even while acknowledging that a “dramatic” performance can, in and of itself, be funny. This is going the long way to eliminate Chris Pratt2 and Chris Rock3. That leaves Kevin Hart, who is probably fine in The Wedding Ringer, but who loses most of those points for being in The Wedding Ringer, Rose Byrne, who is fine in the amiable-but-not-particularly-good Neighbors, and Channing Tatum, for doing what Channing Tatum always does ina  sequel.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Since it’s got to be somebody, I guess it oughta be Rose Byrne.

Best Musical Moment
So, when the highly-technical and detail-oriented process of genre-assignation for films comes down, do you suppose we’ll be able to remember Whiplash as a musical? I sure hope so. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have done so much goofy, jokey terrible song-singing that even in their “serious” film together, The Skeleton Twins, it’s still kind of the same thing. “Unlikely dance-offs” are still pretty funny, but it seems like maybe we shouldn’t officially reward them, so Neighbors is right out. Jennifer Lawrence did a nice job singing a song. That’s not spectacular. Chris Pratt using pretending to use rats as microphones is three of my favorite things4. But from a purely technical standpoint, Miles Teller actually had to learn to be a good enough drummer to pretend to be a less-good drummer (but still good) (arguably) who becomes a quite-good drummer. That’s impressive.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Miles Teller, Whiplash

Best Villain
Boy, some of these seem a little spoiler-y, don’t they? Jillian Bell is the villain of 22 Jump Street. Oh shit. Also: Rosamund Pike is the villain of Gone Girl. Aren’t you glad you know that going in? She faked her death, guys. So that Ben Affleck would get framed for it. Because wouldn’t you know, the world needed another movie, in this environment, about how wimminz be crazy. Fuck Gone Girl. The non-spoiler villains, then, include Meryl Streep for Into the Woods, a movie that should probably not be nominated for anything, J.K. Simmons for playing House: The Jazz Conductor and Peter Dinklage for Dinklaging.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Peter Dinklage, X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best WTF Moment
Sigh. Alright, 22 Jump Street more-or-less definitively proves that the air is out of the tires of “hilarious tattoos”. The Whiplash clip seems shoehorned in there so that they aren’t all weird shit from comedies. The MTV Movie Awards are clearly heavily-invested in Neighbors, which seems crazy to those of us that aren’t. So Top Five or Horrible Bosses 2? On the one hand, Top Five is better. On the other hand, it probably deserves actual awards for stuff, and Jason Sudeikis’ commitment is worth giving an award to.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, Horrible Bosses 2

Best Kiss
Every year MTV makes some kind of deal about same-sex smooching in movies. The women ones because zomglesbians and the men was because omghilarity. This is dumb. Seth Rogen and James Franco probably kiss all over each other in real life, it’s not a comedy thing from a comedy movie. Similarly, the Rose Byrne/Halston Sage kiss in Neighbors is dumb and forced. DO BETTER, MTV. Anyway. The Fault in Our Stars is terrible crap and I hate it5. So that leaves us with super-heroes. The Captain America/Black Widow kiss is neat, but kind of aimless. The Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone kiss would have to go an awfully long way to match the Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst kiss in the first Spider-Man, but at least it’s trying. Besides, how funny would it be to call them up to accept an award for snogging when they just broke up? That would be so funny, y’all.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Best Fight Scene
This category is a sham, because the best fight scene was between Gamora and Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy. For reasons.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan, Guardians of the Galaxy. For reasons.

Best Shirtless Performance
Um. So. There are people who are watching Foxcatcher pruriently, then? That’s…..kind of insane. I’m super weirded-out by that. The Fault in Our Stars is already grief porn, it might as well have value as regular porn, so I’m in favor of that sort of thing. Kate Upton and Zac Efron both look great without a shirt, but that’s also 80% of the reason either of them is cast in anything, so in their case it’s more “doing their job” than “winning awards”. Chris Pratt, on the other hand, got famous as a schlub, and became Star Lord.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Duo
Still, MTV rides for Neighbors. And 22 Jump Street. They’re fine, guys, but settle right the hell on down. The Interview doesn’t really add anything to the Rogen/Franco ouevre, but it’s fine. The Fault in Our Stars remains a war crime. This category was actually a foregone conclusion.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy

Breakthrough Performance
How many times will I mention that The Fault in Our Stars is an awful, awful piece of work? Oh, as many times as it comes up. I dislike it that much. Anyway, The Maze Runner pretty much failed to happen. That’s a shame for that kid. David Oyelowo didn’t so much “break out” as he did “get nominated for a bunch of awards.” He’s been around forever, kids. Rosamund Pike slightly less so, but still somewhat. All of that said, one of the things that is legitimately, actually impressive about Boyhood, and one of the ways it legitimately moves beyond its gimmick, is the performance of Ellar Coltrane, who managed to stay a good actor all the way through his, well, boyhood.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood

Best Scared-as-Shit Performance
OK, right away we have a problem. Rosamund Pike is meant to be scary, not scared. She’s the villain, remember? Wimminz be crazy? Right. Annabelle Wallis was in a movie called Annabelle, which bothers me enough that I cannot reward it. Don’t be in movies named after you. It’s bad. Unfortunately that leaves us with The Maze Runner, The Boy Next Door, and The Purge: Anarchy, which is hell of unappetizing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ah, what the hell, Rosamund Pike isn’t scared, but she seems pretty legitimately psychotic. The only other performance I even liked here was Matt Saracen’s, and it’s HELLA DEPRESSING that he’s in Purge sequels.

Best Actress
Ah, segregated categories again. Gah. Alright, so, Shailene Woodley is nominated for The Fault in Our Stars, which is terrible. Glad we had this talk. Jennifer Lawrence is nominated for her third outing as this character, which is terrible. Glad we had this talk. Emma Stone is playing a weird inside-out version of the “semi-estranged daughter,” which I can dig. Reese Witherspoon does a good job at conveying a lot of tension and all that, but I dunno, man. Is it really an MTV movie award thing? Scarlett Johansson doesn’t laugh once during Lucy, which is an impressive enough feat due to that movie being the most ridiculous movie ever, but this category is dumb because WHY DO THEY HATE ZOE SALDANA SO MUCH?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy. Maybe she can borrow some wrist rockets to crash the stage, since they didn’t even nominate her, because they’re so dumb. I would also accept Maggie Gyllenhaal from Frank. Maybe they can share it or something. Maybe they can share it…..euphemistically6.

Best Actor
The Fault in Our Stars is terrible. The rest of this doesn’t even need to be typed out, because you can all see where it’s going.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Hero
So, if you think about it, Bilbo kind of isn’t the hero of The Hobbit. He brings untold danger upon The Shire, he starts the Battle of Five Armies because he can’t keep his grubby paws off the arkenstone, and he doesn’t even have the decency to stay conscious through the damn thing. He then allows himself to get so hooked on the ring that he can barely send it off to its destruction, goes all nuts on Frodo for carrying it through Mordor and then just fucks off to the Grey Haven. Bilbo is the worst, guys. Well, not as much the worst as Tris from The Fault in Our Stars. She’s the actual worst. The dude from The Maze Runner couldn’t even hero his movie into the public consciousness. So Star Lord or Katniss? On the one hand, Star Lord is in the better movie. On the other hand, he’s also a criminal and mostly does stuff because he thinks it would be fun. Katniss is unquestionably heroic, but requires an awful lot of motivation to actually do stuff. Maybe they could fight for it? Or maybe it should just be Star Lord.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Star Lord

Movie of the Year
You now what’s a better movie than The Fault in Our Stars? Literally any movie. I once saw film of a frog pooping. That was a better movie than The Fault in Our Stars7. Whiplash and Selma both have their strong points (namely: they’re actually good movies and stuff), but they lack the oomph of an MTV Movie Award movie,. Gone Girl doesn’t lack oomph, and shares the same casual sexism as a fifteen year old boy, which is fine, but also Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t do that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Guardians of the Galaxy

1 and not the MTVVMAs, for whom not only is the statement not true but also this single-handedly explains why they don’t initialize their awards programs.
2 who, as a pretty archetypal wisecracker, turns in a performance is no more “comedic” than Harrison Ford’s as Han Solo or Kurt Russell’s as Tango or Cash or whichever one he is, even if it is funnier
3 who, despite playing an actual literal comedian is still looking for love and asking people to list rappers.
4 Chris Pratt, fake microphones, and spirited lip-synching.
5 y’know. still. and always.
6 for reasons
7 also less full of shit. Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.


Buggy Whips Addendum: Seriously?

So the newest bids to the streaming market are the relaunches of Tidal and Beats Music. Now, both of them are going to, respectively, be the subject of Streaming Pile of Truth installments, and I’ll talk some more about them in a practical sense then, but it’s worth reiterating some things from some past music-industry-type posts in the wake of all this.

Beats Music is a weirdly-nebulous thing as it is. There’s a streaming service there that, for whateve reason, is talked of as though it doesn’t exist. They’re clearly launching some other level of it, with a partnership between Jimmy Iovine and Trent Reznor. There’s much talk of content1. Clearly it’s an attempt on some of the more forward-thinking of the former-record-sellers to monetize the way people listen. And there’s clearly money there – despite never actually being profitable as a business, Spotify certainly generates tons of revenue, and RDio doesn’t actually do too badly. But those are the streaming services of the unwashed, and Beats is building both a curatorial brand and a relationship with Apple that will make it a part of Apple’s general “lifestyle”2 extension. So, “better by association” seems to be the general idea.

Beats is the less-interesting one, but it creates the backdrop for which Tidal was released: it was rushed out to the market to come out ahead of Beats’ re-reveal. It’s also built on the twin bogeymen of streaming (artist compensation and apparent audio quality). Firstly, Jay-Z announced that a bunch of the record-selling-industry A-list – people that were still making a lot of money in the old model – were “co-owners” of the service. This was the most visible part of the ostensible commitment to transparency and artist-forward treatment on behalf of the service.

There has been much handwringing about the state of payouts from streaming music. Aloe Blacc wrote a piece for Wired complaining that the number of Spotify streams for “Wake Me Up”, the Avicii song on which he is the guest vocalist, “only” netted him $40,000. Weep for Aloe Blacc. Jay-Z cited this figure in a recent interview with Billboard, using it as the example of how the payout model should be changed. So obviously going into business with some of the Arcade Fire, Madonna and Jack White3 is the way around that. Tidal is going to operate, we are assured, in a way that is friendly to the artist, and with great transparency.

The other bogeyman of streaming is solved by the twenty-dollar-a-month price tag justifying much greater audio fidelity. They’ve set up a test thingy on their website that tells you if you are worthy (seriously – if you guess correctly, it tells you your ears are good enough to subscribe, and if you don’t, it questions your ability to set up sound equipment) of the Tidal experience.

I’ve already talked about both of those things, but I’m going to condense the point here. The second one is the easier one to swat away. Streaming services aren’t great because they sound good, and they aren’t great because they obviate the need to own music for people that are serious about owning music. Streaming services are great because the buffet-style pricing makes it easier to listen to something with minimal financial outlay, which leads to more sales of things that don’t have other outlets for listening to. They are even greater because they can stream to anything. Spotify, Soundcloud, Rdio, Bandcamp, Pandora, even the lower-tier last.fm and Slacker Radio all have apps that are easy enough to use and make the way you want them that you can carry around an enormous amount of access for a tiny amount of effort (the effort of carrying around your phone or whatever, which you’d be doing anyway4).

Obviously streaming is causing some things not to be bought that would have otherwise. Record sales are down. The two types of sales that are lost are the indiscriminate sale and the experimental sale. The indiscriminate sale is the sale that moved huge amounts of hype-machine pop records in the nineties, or late-to-the-party post-grunge records, or post-Madonna pop girl records in the eighties. The ability to create a saturation point, and ubiquity, leads to a lot more recognition5, which leads to people buying stuff. As the inability of the record-selling industry to marshall people behind a monolith, so too does the ability to get people to spend money they would ordinarily spend on other pursuits on music.

The money that fell out of the record industry, in other words, landed in other places6.

The point to all this is: the audio quality literally never enters into it. People listened on crackly radios. People have listened on poorly-mastered CDs, poorly-transferred eight-tracks, cheaply-pressed vinyl, and lossy, highly-compressed mp3s. The streaming quality is clearly not a market issue. If it were a market issue, it sure wouldn’t be one that Jay-Z had to tell us about. I’m generally pretty interested in the way things sound (enough so that I still keep an iPod Classic full of high-quality music files, still buy important-to-me things on vinyl, and still at least buy a CD if it’s a place where sound quality matters), and I stream stuff to my phone all the time. It’s not because it’s better, or because it’s replacing anything. It’s an “and”, not an “or”. So offering people the ability to pay $20 for higher-quality streaming is asking people to buy snake oil: most people simply don’t have the antenna strength (let alone the data plan) to pull down high-quality audio in the first place, and since mobile devices are the beating heart of the streaming industry, it’s a dumb, dumb idea. Although it will fleece a bunch of morons out of $20 a month, which I’m ok with generally.

But the bigger monster, the thing that all of these questions of the need for another streaming service, and of audio quality, and even of transparency, that is being conjured here is the idea that artists aren’t getting paid for Spotify. The first reason this is fallacious is the reason that people were angry about home taping, or CD burning, or file-trading: the people that are the angriest at the change in their “cut” are taking into account the handful of dollars they might be losing from sales, and not the giant percentage being taken out of their sales by their handlers (labels, agents, managers, lawyers, publishers, etc.). I’m not arguing that Spotify is ever going to make anybody rich, but if you’re worried about getting more money out of it, you probably shouldn’t go after the people taking the scraps off the bottom instead of refusing to sign contracts with people that want to take the cream off the top7.

The second fallacy is related, and it’s a thing I’ve said (not to mention that lots and lots of other people have said) many times – there used to be money in the record-selling economy that was there because of physical inventories and a captive audience. Paying money for a record seems sensible – it’s a thing, it exists because of someone’s effort, it occupied space and took resources to create and move and store. So the price should be something. A digital file requires no inventory space8, and is therefore worth whatever the person paying for it thinks its worth. Bandcamp (yay Bandcamp!) gets around this by having the artist charge what they think it’s worth (many of whom then decide that “what it’s worth” is what someone will pay for it, thus enabling the customer to set their own price), which is an obviously phenomenal idea. Mostly, however, there is the binary: the customer is still deciding what to pay for it. Before streaming was an option, the options were “pay the price asked” or “figure out a way to get it without paying that.”9, with streaming there’s a middle option which is “pay some money or listen to some ads and listen to that song”. This is a net gain for everyone that matters – the listener has more options, the artist has more ways to get people to hear their songs, which increases the audience, which can (if so desired) increase the opportunities for monetization via merchandise or live shows or whatever.

It is not, however, a net gain for the record-selling arm of the music industry, who now have to contend with a consumer market that has enough choices to not be able to play the game entirely with their ridiculous stacked deck. And so we come back to the problem of streaming services not paying out. The truth is, of course, that the artist does see less, but that the availability to the listener is more, so the expense of hiring a huge company that has no artistic interest in your output, only a business interest10 is less useful. The utility of having a corporation associated with defense, or theme parks, or computers, manage how your music appears to the public is lessened when people have means to find it that never pass by the efforts of that corporation.

So the answer would be to not sign contracts that allow the corporation to take the same amount of money as always, even as the amount of money available for that kind of thing diminishes. The answer is to work harder to build your audience the real way and not whine about how your shortcut got blocked off. The answer is to make music for its own sake, instead of giving up your control over it and the means of making money off of it for a shot at, theoretically, getting recognized on the subway. The answer is not to yell at the kid who can now hear all of the music he wants because that corporation that’s taking your money signed a contract that said he could.

Never once, ever, has the culprit behind artists not getting paid ever been the fan. The fan is the reason the artist is able to get paid in the first place. So TIdal, which offers a great payout and transparency (but not, obviously, actually revealing their payout structure or their financials), and is owned (that part does appear to be legit) by a bunch of record-sales titans who have everything to gain by a walled garden that keeps their material out of the hands of the hoi polloi who can’t afford it, is coming from the entirely wrong direction.

But here’s the good news: if we’ve learned anything from home taping, or cd burning, or file sharing, or streaming, or YouTube uploads, or programs that record temporary streams for permanent archiving, or Soundcloud, or BitTorrent, or Mega, or, hell, asking someone to upload something to Google Drive, has shown us it’s this: someone who is determined to hear something is going to hear it. An Arcade Fire fan is going to hear The Arcade Fire’s music no matter how he releases it. And their desire to hear trumps even the notion of approval of the individual members of the Arcade Fire.

So why not use this to your advantage? Why go after the people who are going out of their way to hear your music despite the economic realities of doing so?

Anyway, Tidal and Beats Music are more snake oil. They’re more attempts to “solve” a “problem” by misdirection, by convincing people that they, the people that want to hear music, are the problem, instead of the giant conglomerates that want desperately to be back in the position of holding the keys.

1 someday, the word “content” will be so devalued that it has no essential meaning. On the day that worm turns, I recommend that we convert it to a mild blaspheme, so that we have a swear somewhere between “ass” and “cocksucker”. Hopefully we can make this catch on.
2 sometime after the meaning of the word “content” crumbles to dust, I am hopeful that we can round up every single person ever responsible for the idea, implementation, or execution of “lifestyle” branding and set them all on goddamned fire.
3 these are the most baffling, as these people are known to be among the most insane about the money they are “owed” for their work.
4 admittedly, this also assumes the financial outlay for a phone that can stream things, which is beyond the means of many. The streaming options remain available for those people with things like Pandora, which is actually better on a computer. Non-computer-owners are, for obvious reasons, not really a part of the purview of this piece.
5 remember: the point of advertising is not to convince anyone of a product’s qualities, but to get them to remember it. Familiarity eventually gives way to acceptance, which leads to sales.
6 largely casual gaming, actually. In the last few years, a multibillion dollar industry has popped up where before there was not one. While it’s literally impossible to do, I would wonder how much of the casual gaming $20 purchases would have been, fifteen years ago, a $15 CD. I bet you could get pretty close with it, since the casual gaming market and the major-label-pop-music market have very similar demographics.
7 this sentence appears to suggest that I believe that the constituent parts of milk are “scraps” and “cream.” I’ll allow it.
8 well, ok. It requires whatever hard drive space exists to take it. I have a $100 terabyte hard drive that holds the entirety of my 500GB digital music collection, with room to double it. The digital music collection includes all of my physical music, and therefore represents about twenty years of accumulation. Assuming this rate is constant, by the time I’m fifty, I may have to spend another $100 on whatever drive is next. Even assuming that drive size is constant, we’re talking about $200 lifetime, even at a constant rate of consumption. For what will, at the time of my ninetieth birthday, be about 300,000 songs*. That’s about .07 cents (that’s 7 hundredths of a cent) per song. Assuming that’s true for, say, the entire iTunes store (26 million songs), that’s a total inventory cost of $17,333 (again, assuming that Apple pays retail for its drive space, which we can pretty safely assume they do not, but we can roll in the rest of that as the maintenance and connection cost), which seems like a lot of money, except that Apple has sold 25 billion songs, which covers the cost (assuming even $.050 per song, which covers the rest of the network and maintenance budget, as well as the salaries of several CEOs, since iTunes songs cost much more than that) 71,000 times over. There is, functionally, no inventory cost to digital music.
* assuming roughly 5 MB per song and 950GB usable space on a 1TB hard drive
9 technically even before home taping this was an option, since shoplifting was always an option I suppose. But again – stealing a physical object is very different from sharing a digital object. A record that is shoplifted is a record that literally cannot be sold. A file that one person shares with another person is a file that is still there, and still capable of being sold or purchased however the customer and seller agree upon.
10 Sony doesn’t care if Bob Dylan makes a good record, only if he makes a popular one – they’re in the consumer electronics business with a sideline in music, not the folk music business


Shamelessly Punting Again, Some Brief Lists in Lieu of a Real Post

The Five Best Discworld Books (Still R.I.P., Pterry)
  1. Hogfather
  2. Night Watch
  3. Lords and Ladies
  4. Going Postal
  5. Soul Music

Things I Loved When I Was 10 That I Still Totally, Unreservedly Love Now
  1. The Maxx
  2. Cottage Cheese and Applesauce
  3. Ghostbusters
  4. Legos
  5. Bloom County

Five Things I Have Completely Given Up Trying to Like, Despite Many Efforts
  1. Scott Walker (the singer that makes records, not the other one)
  2. Law & Order (lots of smart, respectable people seem to get some kind of enjoyment out of this show, and I have absolutely no idea why)
  3. Non-Cooking-Based Television Talent Competitions (unless they bring back The Next Great American Band, in which case I’m all the way back in. I reserve the right to not have given up on Last Comic Standing, although there’s no reason to not do so).
  4. Film Noir (Or Book Noir. Or things that are described as noir-ish. All of it.)
  5. Geuse (any sour beer, really. If the idea is that you’ve made something that tastes pretty specifically pretty bad, and you’re proud of having acquired a taste for it, then stick to kimchi or whatever) (NB: I love kimchi or whatever)

Five Great Songs That Aren’t on Spotify, Which Causes Me Much Rage at the Gym
  1. The Body “Do They Owe Us a Living”
  2. Pinebender “Interested in Endings”
  3. Pink Floyd “Interstellar Overdrive”
  4. Boris “Rattlesnake”
  5. Swans “All Lined Up” (the live version from Public Castration is a Good Idea, I think the studio version from Soundtracks for the Blind is on there)

Five Things That Could Have Been This Blog Post Had They Not Crashed and Burned Into Unusable Word Slop
  1. Who the Fuck Would Listen to This: DMX (it turns out the answer to “who the fuck would listen to this” was a resounding “nobody,” nor was there anything like a release campaign – I don’t think I even saw a review – so there wasn’t really a hook for the piece)
  2. Coping With the End of the World: The Marvel Comics Reboot (this morphed from a silly rundown of why it was sad that each of the titles was ending into a more serious piece about the economics of mainstream comics, which necessitated me learning a lot more about the economics of mainstream comics, and also leading to it becoming a piece with some pretty serious identity issues. It may still happen, though!)
  3. Burger King’s Ham Sandwich (Technically, this would have run awhile ago, but it would have pushed a bunch of entries back into this one, which means there would be a real post here, and not a “shamelessly punting” installment. It didn’t happen because I’m not a masochist, and that shit looks gross. It also relies pretty heavily on Burger King’s cheese, which is literally no one’s favorite part of anything)
  4. Things I Hate About April Fools Day (it’s not a bad idea, but there’s only the one thing that I hate about it – its entire existence – so it wouldn’t be much of a piece)
  5. Why March is Apparently Such a Difficult Month For Me To Blog (it happens every year! It’s frigging weird! I don’t know why and don’t think anyone feels like reading about my guesses!)