Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Okay, so who killed the video star?

No one should be too surprised to find out that money was involved.

The following video does have language bleeped out, but there is a lot of it, and the attitude is a little abrasive. It also makes me laugh and has some truth in it, so watch if you want to:

There is a factor that was not mentioned in the video but that still played a role, relating to advertising dollars. When MTV initially launched, people watched for the novelty alone. There would be videos you loved and videos that you didn't, but it was all so new that people would tune in. There would still be some influence by demographic issues and time zones, but people tuned in. That level of fascination couldn't last.

While from one point of view every video was an ad - promoting the song, album, and band - the channel still needed advertisers. Advertisers buy in blocks, but if you don't know who is watching when, or that they don't have a motive to switch away any time a lame video comes on, it's hard to feel confident in the investment.

Programming still provided some answers to this. Some times of day would have a theme instead of random videos. That's how we get "Yo MTV Raps", "Club MTV", "Headbangers' Ball", and "120 Minutes". (I assume VH1's "Pop-Up Video" filled a similar role, though I don't remember them having a lot of shows.)

They did other shows too. I loved the game show "Remote Control", got into "The Monkees" enough to go to their reunion tour (which I doubt would have happened without MTV airing the shows), and once they started airing "Monty Python's Flying Circus", my friends and I started quoting it a lot. I never got into "The Young Ones" but it didn't bother me that it was on.

None of this was awful so far. The turning point is widely recognized as the debut of "The Real World" in 1992, launching a craze of annoying shows depicting horrible people doing stupid things (for fun, mix and match those nouns and adjectives), but which many find fascinating and they are often quite inexpensive to shoot.

Since the station was generally getting music videos free, any shooting expense for any series should have been less attractive than the free music videos, but I think there are a few factors that came into play, based on my own experience.

The truth is I had sort of already left MTV behind. In 1992 I was in college, and I could go down to the basement and probably find the right channel on one of the two communal televisions, if no one else was already watching something different, but it didn't happen that often. Then I was on my mission, and not watching any television.

I did try again, in August 1994, and it didn't appeal to me. I saw grunge and rap, and everything had kind of a nasty edge. I know the bands that I did like made music videos, but maybe I didn't have time to wait around for them. There was work, and finishing college, and always something that needed to be done.

The music changes, and what's in style changes . In the video when he says what artists they would be playing today, he is absolutely right. There was briefly a channel (I think it was a VH1 spin-off) that was playing old videos from the '80s. We did tune in and watch it for a while, but still, who has time for that? So maybe some of that nostalgia is not only for watching music videos, but for having enough free time that watching random videos is a reasonable use of time, and for being the desired demographic. Once your tastes were hot contemporary, and now they are oldies. I can sympathize with that.

Videos may still be free, but the record labels do not have the budgets that they did. That point about the phones being shown in every video, and being the reason that the video is paid for, is completely true. I can think of awkward phone placement in videos by at least two of my favorite bands, and they aren't even particularly new videos. Frankly, that's weird; shouldn't there be more than one type of product that can benefit from product placement? Why is it always phones?

Regardless, needing product placement is a budget issue, and it is one that came from people no longer buying music. Again, record companies were too slow to adapt, the amounts of money were ridiculous for what the labels actually did, and Napster was a huge missed opportunity.

I have written about that before. If I have something new to say, it will work it's way out, but for the next phase I want to focus on music videos themselves. What do they do and what can they do? Which ones work, which ones fail, and why? I have been planning on doing this since at least last June. (I have reasons to believe Frank Iero is my spirit animal, but if not, it's probably a tortoise.)

So, lots of video links coming up. For now, here are some previous posts, and the books that influenced them, and influenced this post.

Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age, by Steve Knopper

Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Video didn't kill the radio star; it was the Telecom Act

There is this quote that I have been hanging onto for a while:

“The Telecom Act profoundly affected the radio business, removing station ownership caps, and unleashing an unprecedented wave of consolidation. Radio deregulation left the public airwaves dominated by less than a handful of companies—Clear Channel, Cumulus, Citadel and Viacom—who laid off hundreds, decimated community programming and all but standardized playlists across the country. Average listening time plunged. FCC Chair Reed Hundt had justified the legislation by arguing “We are fostering innovation and competition in radio.” But by all accounts, KMEL’s innovative years were over, and competition, the driving force of that innovation, was about to end.”
This is from Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation. The funny thing is that I read that before I even started reviewing bands, though I think the writing was on the wall.

I think about this when no one can find anything good on the radio, I think about this when no one has heard of bands that are really quite good, and I think about it when Tara Dublin writes about saving radio.

I have tried researching the act, and there are several crazy things about it. It sounds like a Reagan thing, but was signed by Clinton. It's purpose was given as fostering competition, but it failed miserably. We have gone from about fifty major media companies in 1983 to six in 2005. To be fair, it was ten in 1996 when the Telecom Act was passed.

It's not that it was paradise before. I know about the payola scandal and hearings of 1960, and I know about band managers getting DJs drugs and hookers a decade or so later. Those with money still always seem to be able to find a way to make an advantage. However, having corporations set standard playlist that are full of acts that will appeal to the lowest common denominator isn't really ideal either.

In 1987, Z100 played the same pop tunes almost hourly. They were songs that I liked, so it worked for me, but I had a friend who was really into KISS and AC/DC, and it drove him nuts. Also, they would throw the Last Chance Summer Dance in Waterfront Park, and that was a good time.

In 1991, I was at school in Eugene, and I heard songs on the radio that I would never hear when I was at home, and that wasn't only on the college station. There were live people who picked songs to play, and how much their station managers influenced them varied, but it gave a personality and a flavor to the place where you were.

As we get past that fateful date, I am struggling to think of a time and place where radio mattered, and was a good thing, and I can't. I can come up with some very annoying memories, like a morning crew talking about how deep Taylor Swift lyrics are, but if I wanted my blood boiling with rage and contempt I would be listening to talk radio.

I do care about distribution of music, and opportunities for exposure for new bands, but it goes beyond that. People were laid off, then and more recently. People who are still working now need other gigs to survive. That's not helpful in a constrained economy.

It's not particularly good for advertisers either. If you know good music is coming, good local updates, and likable personalities, you stick around through commercials. There is no reason to have that kind of patience.

In yesterday's post, I could have written a lot about the perils and effects on society of losing newspapers as a reliable source of news, and that could still happen, but I think the recurring theme between yesterday and today is that when owners only care about making money, they don't make much of value other than that.

Invigorated radio might not make more money than what you have now, but it could make enough to survive, and it would be worth a lot more. I would like having it around.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Requiem for a newspaper

I have written several times about my affection for the Oregonian. It's dried up now.

The writing has been on the wall for a while, because there had been policy changes and layoffs, but the real death knell came last year, when they announced that it was splitting into two companies. One side would focus on the internet, and the other would be physical distribution. One aspect of that was that they would be switching to delivering only four days a week.

As luck would have it, that happened right around the time that I needed to update my billing information for our subscription, and I delayed for three months as I was trying to figure out if I even wanted to renew it. One thing that bothered me was that there was another service offering to deliver on the other days, so they were still producing a daily paper, just not delivering it to everyone.

It just got worse. Initially the delivery days were Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Wednesday stopped coming, and I thought it might be a renewal issue, but the Wednesday features were showing up on Friday.

I thought it was odd that I could only do the new subscription for 13 weeks, and expected to hear something from them at the end of 13 weeks, but I did not. I returned to the website, which is a site that covers many newspapers, but it does not offer the Oregonian anymore. The three issues per week are still coming, most of the time, but I am not sure through whom, and again, I don't know that I would renew, because the quality has gone down so much.

That is the worst part. Not having a daily paper disrupts things like comics and crosswords, but those are not essential, and there are online options. While there are online options for news, it is not the same.

I do still see articles from many online sources, including the New York Times and the Atlantic and the Washington Post. That is fine, but that doesn't really give me local news. My area matters to me. Yes, we have local television news, but they are just repeating the same things over and over again, and without much enlightenment. The Oregonian had been a source of thoughtful reporting, with frequent award-winning in-depth investigation. Now it even looks like a tabloid, and there is no reason to believe that will get better:

It is frustrating. We seem to still need the Sunday paper, for ads and coupons if nothing else, but we could just pick that one up and skip the rest of the week. I find that even when it is here, I tend not to look at it. That's hard to believe. I subscribed to the Oregonian when I was a broke college student. When I was a high school student at Girl's State I picked up an Oregonian every day. It hurts that it's become this.

I have thought about checking out some of the other local papers, like the Portland Tribune or Willamette Week, but even if they do end up a part of our rhythms, it's not going to be the same. The Oregonian is not what it was, and it's a loss.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Band Review: Lakotah DJ

Lakotah DJ has a lot of music available online. A lot of it is in album form on Soundcloud, without track listings, so taking all of that together, it is hard for me to call out specific songs and recommend individual tracks. I was able to listen to everything once, but not able to do a lot of repeats, simply because of the volume.

It is house music, generally specified as Progressive House, but sometimes Electro House, and sometimes Trap. I don't have a lot of familiarity with those genres. It's pretty good; there was a lot of toe-tapping and knee-bouncing.

I believe I did build up some familiarity, because toward the end I was noticing more. Therefore, I think I can say, and it will be accurate, that Black Hills and Badlands feel more aggressive, while Meet Her In Miami feels better for dancing. There are a lot of female voices on it, and it is kind of bouncier.

There is a lot to browse, and several free downloads available, so if you have an interest in house music at all, it is worth checking out for that reason alone.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Band Review: Bunky Echo-Hawk

Bunky Echo-Hawk initially came to my attention as a visual artist, but then I saw that he did music as well and wanted to check that out. It sounds like he sometimes combines the two media in shows, and that he works in other media as well, so I'm not sure that looking only at the music is reasonable, but this is what I have to work with.

Songs are available on Soundcloud and ReverbNation. ReverbNation has much more available, but "Onward & Up" is only on Soundcloud, and it may be the most representative of his house music side. It is danceable and interesting to listen to. Overall there is a lot of variation in the sound, which is why I hesitate to pick one that is most representative.

The Soundcloud grouping feels more political, whereas the expanded offerings on ReverbNation include a lot more about, well, technically a lot of them are about sex. The humor throughout gives it a breath of fresh air, so it does not feel the way you might expect. "Well, Jermaine Helped" is a good example of this. That sense of fun also comes through on "My Big Red Bike", though it took me a moment to catch on to what he was doing.

One thing that was interesting for me was that usually I am not familiar with the original material in remixes, so I can't compare. Echo-Hawk does have a track "Wonderful HAUS" based on Adam Ant's "Wonderful". I am afraid in this case it is the weakest track, because he doesn't really do much to put his own stamp on it. To be fair, I love that song, and part of what I love is its simplicity, so it would probably require a complete reinvention for me to enjoy another version.

Echo-Hawk collaborates well with other artists, including TACTiLE KiLLSPLENTY on "Smudge Away", Brian Frejo and T-Hawk on "Grandma Says", and Lucid 44 on "Motion Sickness". "Grandmas Says" was probably my favorite, in that it drew my deepest emotional response.

I'm not sure that it makes sense to think of the musician without thinking of the artist in this case, but I do think the music can stand on its own.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


One effect of working on the comics is that I seem to be thinking more visually. Recently I had this image of me trying to push up a weight that was coming down on me. My first thought was that I would not be able to push effectively in this way, essentially pushing backwards, but also it was pretty clear I was feeling weighed down.

The Killing of Crazy Horse was a big part of it. The book was a slog, and while I was trying to get through it, I was frustrated by everything that was waiting until it was done, but really that one book only emphasized the real stress: everything else waiting to be done.

It is wonderful that I keep finding new sources of information and things to research and things I want to do. One thing I have noticed lately is that I feel younger, and I think that is because I am constantly trying new things and learning. I am off-balance a lot, because I am trying to get better at things I am not good at, but it's invigorating too.

Trying to balance all the things I want to do with what I need to do is a challenge. I recently moved from trying to keep all my checklists on various slips of paper to something digital. I started with a word document, but that was too disorganized so now I have a spreadsheet. It currently has eight tabs, with lots of entries. Some will go away, and some will just change.

That is basically pressure that I put on myself, and I should be able to relieve that, but some things feel urgent. It makes no logical sense for me to take on a community garden plot now, but I felt like I had too. Thinking about some of the things that feel important, I realized there is another factor that makes things feel heavier.

I sometimes refer to this other reading project, and I have never given it a good description or a good name, because it is hard to define. It has built up messily. I started with an idea that I wanted to know more so I could better help some of the people I have come to care about through Twitter. They are mostly teen girls, but not all. Sometimes I think of it as my troubled teen reading, but that imposes an unfair label on them. Sometimes I think of it as feminist reading, because there are some direct correlations, but that doesn't really describe it.

So, it was just this list of books that felt like they would be important. In July it was ten books, but several months later there are nine books left, even though I have read sixteen, I am nonetheless getting closer to the end.

I realized pretty early on that anything that I read for them would also be meaningful for me, and that there would be this long period of writing, between blog and journal, where things would be coming out, but that there could be some healing in there. That's good, but it doesn't tend to be easy. I feel this heaviness as some things start coming out, and as I feel the end approaching.

It is happening on levels I had not recognized. I don't think it's a coincidence that I suddenly needed a guitar, or that my math and science shortcomings started bothering me. My instincts seem to be working on gaining back the things I had given up on when I was a teenager. Thinking about everything that includes makes me feel a little like I am standing in front of Pandora's box, but there was hope in that box too, so deep breaths and keep going.

That means not breaking down, so I am having to put some things on hold, and be patient. I am so eager for some of the books I want to read, and I have a solid plan for making up that which I feel was missing academically in high school, but it is also something that I will probably not be able to start before September, and will take about two years to complete. I am not doing anything with language now, and I am not currently practicing guitar, because there are some other things I need to get done first. Right now the blog helps too much to cut, but if I feel I need to take a week or two off from it, that may happen.

With that initial image, of pushing backwards trying to not get crushed, because it was visual it was obvious that you don't have full strength that way. For full strength, you need to be facing it. That's what I'm working on over here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Web of connection

I guess the easiest way to get there is to explain how some of the books I read for this Native American Heritage month were selected. The Killing of Crazy Horse and The Last Stand came from reading book reviews, which has been fairly typical in the past.

She's Tricky Like Coyote was referenced in The People Are Dancing Again, from the 2012 reading, so it should not have been too surprising when there were things that were familiar, like the story of how the tribes were moved, and then when they had to move again, and Tyee John.

Still, it did feel familiar, and then in the other books as I read about the Washita or Sitting Bull's time in Canada, I already knew those things. Both come from the 2010 reading, but together they led to this feeling that thing are starting to connect. There are phrases that I know, and derivations that I understand. I am gaining a background knowledge. At the same time, there was this realization of how much there is that I don't know. Athabaskan keeps coming up, and I don't really know anything about it. I don't know much about the Seminole. I am only starting to grasp the political influence of the Iroquois.

Some of those things are fairly specific, but there are broader issues too. Some of the schools, and the students' experiences, must have similarities with the experiences of Australian Aboriginals and the Stolen Generation. I haven't thought about Pacific Islanders, and their experience with colonialism, but that would relate.

So there is a lot to learn, and I do want to learn it all, but also, things start connecting. Spider-Woman's Granddaughters was also in the back of a book, but it was from Queen Bees and Wannabes, one of my books from my other project. Finding referrals like that in my other reading made me realize I want to make a point of always having some material in a reading month that focuses on women, or at least on a specific woman.

One thing I have worried about in previous months is how easy it is to ignore Native Americans, but they are everywhere. I didn't mention it yesterday, but I also watched a short film for this round, about the Virginia tribes:

I found this through a tweet from Indian Country Today Media Network. I believe I found them through a tweet from Jesse Valenzuela of the Gin Blossoms. ICTMN was also how I found this article:

I thought looking at an artist with each reading section could be a good thing, but I am not sure what to do other than look, or whether it counts. Jackie Larson Bread's beadwork is amazing, but I am not sure how to incorporate it into the month.

I had been thinking about looking at artists because of Bunky Echo-Hawk. He had an exhibit at the Field Museum while we were in Chicago, and I thought, Art! I still don't know how to incorporate it, other than to look and appreciate it:

However, Echo-Hawk is also a musician, and I do know what to do with music: I review it on my blog. That also relates to Jesse, because one of the bands he led me to was Sunshine Collective, and when I was listening to them the singer's voice reminded me a little of Buffy Sainte-Marie, who has done a lot more than "Sesame Street", even if that is how I know her. That led to me remembering that there is also Rita Coolidge, and Litefoot, and then I remembered "For the Generations". I only remembered that one girl initially, but as I tried to determine her name (I think she was Jana Mashonee) I saw there were others: Jaynez, Martha Redbone, and Women of the Four Winds, and Robert Mirabal and Bill Miller. Also, it reminded me that one of the bands who followed me and is in line for review is Lakotah DJ.

I kind of had a similar experience as I was wrapping up Black History month, and was able to get the March comic. I thought about trying to find a comic that would work here. I don't really care for Manitou Dawn, but there must be others, and suddenly there was a MOOC, and that's how I knew about Scalped. I was excited, and planning to read the whole series, and then I kind of hated it, but it's still a start. However, I found a site for comics, and another for children's literature:

Perhaps I should mention that my best current source on Native American issues, Lauren Chief Elk. She, along with other valuable feminist sources, came to me because of Sydette Harry and Mikki Kendall. I found them through Gail Simone, because of comics.

I also found a video on Black Indians that should be good, but I am counting it with Black History month instead, because it didn't come from the library in time. However, it is from Rich-Heape Films, and it looks like they have all kinds of good stuff:

The wealth of information is encouraging, and the opportunities for immersion, but also the way everything overlaps: music, comic books, regular books, feminism, and everything. They bump against each other, and they lead to each other, but they lead in multiple directions. That's why it's a web, and everything is interconnected.

I have had this thought before, but I don't know that I have written it. I have heard the saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I suspect it is more that there are teachers everywhere, and you start to notice it when you begin to look.