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Feeling Feelings

As someone who deeply respects my mother and her advice, sometimes it can be hard to consider it objectively and question whether it is right for me. Cause she’s my mom, so of course she’s right…. right? Well….

Her lessons of modesty, privacy, and restraint, which could make up a whole book on their own, surely seem old-fashioned in this era of full disclosure and emotional transparency.

Yesterday she texted me, concerned because I hadn’t tweeted in almost a week. But I’d been feeling the stress and strain of the post-college job search, and the only things I could’ve thought to tweet would have been depressing, kvetching moans about job rejections (I’ve received many) and crying in the car (I’ve done it a lot).

I told her I was following her guidelines, staying mysterious and not blowing my problems up in public view. Because when your problems become your identity… then it’s much harder to escape them.

There are definitely those for whom public vulnerability forms a central part of their personal brand, and they are all the better for it. I’m just not one of those people! The exigencies and algorithms of social media may tempt users into favoring their most dramatic and revealing content, in a self-fulfilling feedback loop of feelbadness. It’s kind of scary.

The temptation to self-exorcise publicly in return for interaction has never, in my experience, paid off. It has always been better to step away and calm down before returning to social media, rather than issue my issues (so to speak) to an audience of over a thousand. And look— today I’m feeling better, and I’m back to tweeting about stupid shit :) Same as it ever was!


Great Good Fine OK at Irving Plaza

Last Friday night I went to go see my friends Great Good Fine OK play at Irving Plaza for the final stop on their Spring Is Sprung co-headlining tour with Smallpools. Both amazing bands that I was excited to be able to see play to their hometowns.

I’ve been seeing GGFO live since early 2015, so it’s no news to me that they’re a fantastic live act. But this show took things to a whole new level.

All of the elements that make up a great live show, GGFO put into play at Irving Plaza. The band went above and beyond to make the set an incredible experience for the audience.

Firstly, there were the glow sticks and light-up balls tossed into the crowd before the set, ensuring that fans had souvenirs of the performance, and that they were made to feel like part of the show.

Then there was lead singer Jon Sandler’s charming interaction with the crowd, from remarking on his parents in attendance celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary (!!) to joking on the single-ness of their drummer Danny. Often stage banter can feel rote (though that’s not always a bad thing!) but Jon was so utterly personable that it felt like he was having an individual conversation with every member of the audience.

I’ve heard the phrase “surprise and delight” used in regards to how an artist should create content for social media, but I think it should apply to live shows too. In the middle of GGFO’s set when keyboard player Luke took a surprise trip to Smallpools’ drum kit to have a drum-off with Danny, I was utterly delighted by the unexpectedness and sheer fun of the moment. Same goes for whenever Luke would walk out from behind his station to rip on the keytar, having solo-offs with guitarist Carey.

The personalities of each member of the band were spotlighted so authentically and organically throughout the show. Despite having seen them play so many times before, I found myself as excited as if I was seeing them for the first time.

All of the effort they put into their set combined with the energetic setlist, high-quality sound mix, and enthusiastic audience, made for a tremendous experience. All bands could stand to take the same kind of care with their sets, creating a new, different, and more special experience than just streaming the albums— especially pop bands where it’s always possible to lie back and rely on tracks.

Good job GGFO, and congrats on finishing your tour!


Streaming Economics

Been running around NYC for the past few days… don’t have a good reason why I’m here other than the good old “why not?”

Today I stopped by AWAL’s Northside Festival artist lounge in Williamsburg and got to hear a really enlightening panel by Will Page, Spotify’s Director of Economics.

He touched on a ton of truly fascinating points, looking at the music industry from a perspective of behavioral economics as it relates to streaming and contemporary digital strategy.

Firstly, Page was adamant that “catalogue” as a category of music was obsolete. The 18-month cutoff for new music, after which it becomes catalogue and ineligible for charts, was the product of the transition from vinyl to CD, in which people replacing their vinyl collection with new CDs drove up sales of old records and led to them outpacing new music on the charts.

But this makes no sense today, a transaction-based ruling in an era where music data is consumption-based. Page touched on the specific case of Imagine Dragons, whose streams of an album rose 177% in the 18 months after the first 18 months of its release.

He compared streaming-equivalent albums to “fax-equivalent emails” and deemed catalogue music a square peg in a round hole.

Then he transitioned to the next segment of the panel by declaring that it is much more prudent these days for an artist to be optimizing for audience rather than optimizing for streams.

This led into a data-driven examination of Tom Misch’s release strategy leading up to and following the recent release of his album Geography (an AWAL release). There was much comparison of demographics down to the percentage, and a discussion of the merits of the “drip-feeding” single release strategy to maximize fan engagement.

I liked what Page had to say about scaling independence, e.g. the possibilities for streaming services like Spotify to help an artist out via programmed playlist to get to a place where they don’t “need” them anymore, with fans having reached a critical mass of loyalty.

However I did have to agree with one of the question-askers during the Q&A afterwards, who expressed discomfort with the idea of maximizing fans instead of streams, given that other areas of the industry such as festival bookers, publicists, agents, and press still like to see those big streaming numbers.

In order for the fan-focused strategy to truly take precedence, the numbers would need to be given as much prominence by the service and importance by the industry as streaming numbers themselves.

Also, I am always slightly dissatisfied with the idea that tastemaker approval is necessitated for success and engagement. I’ve had a lot of experience that says otherwise…

But overall, it was a really enlightening afternoon, and the free tacos were really good.


Radio's Future

I spend a lot of time on music-focused subreddits, specifically /r/popheads, /r/indieheads, and /r/hiphopheads. It’s great to get linked to breaking news and good music, but what I love best is reading the commentary by the anonymous members of the communities.

This comment thread above, from this /r/popheads thread discussing a Rolling Stone article, is super interesting.

Now, it’s a given that radio isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
And it’s also a given that the commenters above are a super-passionate subset of pop fandom and don’t necessarily represent the interests of radio’s GP.

But I love the intuitive assertion here that “most people these days are constantly looking for the new bop to play.” I’ve seen this in action in my own role as new-music curator just among my friend group. I’ll send a new song to a group chat and hear it blasting in my friend’s car just a day later, or on repeat in a roommate’s shower playlist through the bathroom door.

There absolutely is demand and desire for the presence of independent curators in the music industry. Mainstream streaming services, with their anonymous playlisters, opaque inner workings, and major-label dominance, are not effectively filling that niche.

Beats 1 probably comes the closest, with its artist-helmed shows and on-air personalities, but interfacing with it requires use of the intolerable iTunes or iOS/Android Apple Music apps. And streaming it in a car, outside, or on the go requires use of cell data, which is a dealbreaker for the average listener.

SiriusXM, another competitor, is prohibitively expensive, and has a tendency to partake in the same kind of playlist hegemony as terrestrial radio.

The platform that can do what neither radio or streaming is doing, and do it in a way that both satisfies the existing desires of omnivorous, pan-genre modern music consumers and surprises and delights them with new discoveries, will find itself occupying a very important position in the industry landscape.

• Maybe it’s something that combines elements of on-demand/interactive with real-time/non-interactive, allowing fans to listen live as well as after the fact, like a DVR.

• Maybe it’s something that, impossibly, ends up shared between streaming services. If an individual artist can distribute/license their music to multiple platforms, who’s to say a service or show or on-air host’s brand can’t be distributed the same way?

• Or maybe it’s even something with a live-stream element, a la Twitch.

Who knows? Not me ;)

PS: I see a lot of independent curators/internet personalities making multiple versions of their personal playlists for their fans on different platforms to allow everyone to listen, or even fans having to manually copy the songs over themselves... that shouldn’t have to be a thing. Right????????


Fumfering

A simple Google search will turn up the definition of “fumfer” as:

A Yiddish word meaning to "mumble", most often used to mean to be evasive; can also mean to putter aimlessly or to waste time.

However, in my family it’s come to mean something slightly different. My father uses “fumfering” to refer to the tendency he and I share, of relentless tinkering with something until it does what we want it to do.

I fumfered the other evening with the RSS feed for this very blog, going back and forth between Mailchimp support, my XML configuration, the Kirby CMS forums, and my PHP blueprints until I not only solved the issue, but improved the formatting and flexibility of the template.

I fumfered all afternoon yesterday with my family’s old Panasonic camcorder, jury-rigging cables and cleaning tape heads until I was able to not only play back the old tapes, but record them for safekeeping onto my hard drive in HQ.

In this world of overwhelming complexity, it can be useful to take the time and figure out how something works. The satisfaction of achieving even a small solution on your own can fuel you for the rest of the day, reveling in your own ingenuity.

Of course, “on your own” doesn’t preclude the use of mental aids such as excessive Googling, YouTube tutorials, and the tried-and-true method of narrating your steps out loud to uninterested friends or family.

But don’t go running for help or give up easily. Just fumfer until you figure it out!

Other great words to describe this technique include: futzing, fdreying, fucking around.

PS: Huuuuge thank you to Jake Udell for reposting my "Horizontal Engagement" blog post in yesterday's edition of his Art of a Manager newsletter. :)