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Skepticism

Skepticism can be a very important quality. It can help you avoid scams, make informed choices, and stay sane in this crazy world.

But credulousness also has its own benefits. By not assuming the worst of people, you open yourself up to unexpected possibilities and genuine connections.

One of my long-term goals is to tone it down on the skepticism. I’ve spent enough time protecting myself from everything that doesn’t seem 100% certain, and have surely missed out on valuable insight because of that.

I’m going to try and stop seeing dangers that aren’t there in opportunities for connection, and instead try to take things as they are and not as I’m scared they’ll be.

This blog post brought to you by this amazing meme from @musiccitymemes on Instagram:


Horizontal Engagement

In music, a lot of mainstream digital marketing strategy focuses on establishing, maintaining, and growing the relationship between the artist and their fans.

Which makes sense! In order to give artists a platform, you need to give them an audience. One that will listen to their music, buy their tickets and their merchandise, and help them earn a living.

It’s a vertical relationship by nature— on top is the artist, below is the fans. There are a lot of good ideas out there about how to effectively strengthen those bonds in the digital age, from direct interaction and VIP/meet and greet programs to experiential events and social media capers.

But what people forget is that this is only half the picture.

The vertical relationship between artists and fans is going to be dangerously imbalanced if there isn’t equal care and effortful strategy applied to the horizontal relationship between and among the members of the artist’s fan community.

While the relationship between artist and fan can only ever usually be one-way, given the numbers, the relationships between fans can go leagues further. Life-long friendships are formed, histories are shared, commonalities are found and lessons are learned.

These intra-fan bonds provide the solid ground foundation to the central pillar of the artist-fan relationship, stabilizing it. The active social energy produced by these bonds in turn goes back up the pillar to the artist, providing them with content, ideas, inspiration, loyalty, and (to be blunt) money.

Fan-to-fan friendships are the meat to the sandwich, the gems to the geode. An artist can make all the great content in the world, tell the most beautiful story, but without fans who dissect it amongst themselves and generate discussion and excitement, you won't have an easy journey— or an authentic one.

By spending as much energy on encouraging and curating spaces in which fans can find each other, and rewarding them for engaging not only with the artists but with themselves, as is spent on traditional vertical marketing from artist direct to individual fans, you may find that work you’re used to doing yourself is done for you by fans, automatically and easily and out of love.


Why No Hit?

Last night for her birthday, I took my mom to see my friends Lawrence at their sold out show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago.

They killed it (natch) and even gave her an on-stage shout-out. Totally made her night!

On the drive home, she was commenting on how much she enjoyed the music. “Why aren’t they super famous? They should have a hit song!”

This is a reasonable question from an older adult my mom’s age, who grew up in the age of vinyl and radio. But an answer requires a huge amount of context, explanation, and assumptions on the part of any given artist.

An independent band with a solid and loyal fanbase, a few million plays on Spotify, 500-1,000 tickets sold per show in major markets, and lower-rung spots at major festivals (like Lawrence) may seem, to someone like my mom, like they are destined for the mainstream.

It’s not an easy position to reach and implies a TON of hard work on the part of the artist and their team (manager, agent, publicist, etc). But the leap from that comfortable middle tier to the upper echelons of pop hitmakers is Richter-scale algorithmic in magnitude, and is exponentially harder to achieve for any given act.

Of course, growth and success is always the goal. But unlike in the heyday of the “traditional” industry, approval of gatekeepers such as labels and radio is unnecessary (though that isn’t to say undesired) for acts to succeed on their own terms today.

With few exceptions, a “hit song” in 2018 goes through a gauntlet of writers, producers, label execs, marketing experts, radio pluggers, playlist makers, sync supervisors, and a whole lot of other BS in order to reach true ubiquity. Songs are heavily workshopped, focus-tested, and engineered precisely to achieve market penetration. And that’s fine!

But with all of the direct access to listeners available through independent means, it’s a contemporary blessing that a band with a unique sound and a loyal fanbase doesn’t have to shackle themselves to the pop machine in order to reach an audience, if they don’t want to.

Of course, it’s a shame that the charts aren’t more diverse in terms of sound, and that some songs that surely deserve to be heard by the masses never will be.

But when I see independent acts succeeding on their own terms, I’m thrilled by the possibilities that are emerging for musicians and artists to make a living. Good riddance to a “one size fits all” view of the music business, hello kaleidoscope of alternatives. Who needs hits?

Listen to Lawrence’s new single, “Try” !


It's Only Being

“It felt like being a child again, though it was not. Being a child is like nothing. It’s only being. Later, when we think about it, we make it into youth.”

—China Miéville, Embassytown

There is no better place to have read that line than here, in my childhood bedroom in Skokie, Illinois.

This isn’t my first time reading the fantastic Embassytown, by the amazing British writer China Miéville. According to my Goodreads, it was November of 2012 when I finished it for the first time. That would make me newly 17, in my junior year of high school. I probably read the majority of it in this very bedroom, in between Tumblr posts and Doctor Who episodes and AP Psych assignments.

I must have skipped right over that line, immersed as I was in the deepening worldbuilding of the novel and the sympathetic revelations of the main character, Avice.
But last night, six years separated from my first read, it hit me like a freight train. Because it’s true.

I freak out a lot about my relative youth/lack of it. Especially now, less than a month graduated from college, I’m wondering if I did it “right.” But of course that’s only something you start to worry about afterwards, when in Miéville’s words you “make it into” its own category of your life, give it shape and posthumous meaning, spin it around in your mind like a 3D model to examine all of its angles, its flaws, its surfaces.

When you’re in the moment, when it’s happening, it’s only being. That’s how I remember my time in this room, this house, this suburb. A lot of being.

While reflection is necessary, it’s almost too easy to get trapped in the moments of making and re-making your past and forget to just be— even just in service of giving yourself the experiences needed for future reflection.

I hope that this transformative year in my life will lead me back to a state of balance, between the being and the making, the doing and the remembering.

Anyway, Embassytown has it all. Bizarre alien linguistics, political scandals, clones, houses made of flesh, dimension-hopping space travel. Highly recommended for fans of LeGuin, Chiang, and Gaiman.

For more Miéville goodness, check out The City And The City (a modern classic) or my favorite short story collection of his, Three Moments of an Explosion.

I’m also currently working my way through Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, but I’ll do a post on that once I’m finished… stay tuned!


A Blog Of One's Own

I've been wanting to start a blog for a while now. I keep thinking of really good things to say that don't fit the format of a tweet or a longform newsletter. Then of course, since I don't have an outlet for those things and am chronically, hopelessly, medically distracted, I forget about them completely. Hopefully with this wonderful little site, which I built myself using the Kirby flatfile CMS, I'll stop giving myself the chance to lose track of the surely impactful and thoughtful bullshit floating through my head at all times.

I'm inspired by Jake Udell's excellent Art of a Manager blog, as well as Anil Dash's explication of what the social-media-centric web has lost compared to the highly individualized worlds of Web 1.0. In the process of researching my senior thesis on defunct web communities, I did a lot of reading on the history of networked communication and the very nonlinear, unpredictable way that the web has developed. The web as we know it today, with its static deadlinks and view-only "consumer" mode as separated from the developer mode, wasn't in anyway a natural landing point for the inventive and diverse hypertext systems theorized and workshopped in the late 80s and early 90s. It never had to be this way— but it is, and here we are.

This got me thinking about stuff like how originally, everyone was meant to have their own domain, their own personal space, that they could customize to their whims.

And about how the cybernetic philosophies of the Cold War military-industrial complex influenced the communal counterculture of the 60s and 70s which influenced the digital free-for-all of the 80s and the corporate wreck of the dot com bubble and so on and so forth.

And about how the emergence/convergence of filesharing technologies, networked communication, and the democratization of creation means that the ways in which our society produces and consumes art has so radically changed in the past 25 years that it is nearly unrecognizable.

Okay, maybe I should go to grad school. Don't tell my parents.

But here's what I'm getting at: I'm going to start writing stuff here. You don't have to read it. But in my own straining against the increasingly apocalyptic bonds of algorithmically-driven social media I'm thinking about what it means, in this day and age as a young person, to establish and maintain an online room of one's own (so to speak), where the boundaries and expectations set by the dominant capitalistic enterprise of digital commerce are nonexistent. In one way, radical— in another, totally stupid, because of the absence of what ideas inherently seek: an audience.

Fun stuff!
More soon...
xoxo Allegra