Posts tagged “soundtrack”

Wild and Free

Me on bass, Firefly Club, Osaka, Japan, 2001

I had the TV on in the background the other night while I was doing some work around the house–I’ll admit it to you–I was watching E Hollywood True Stories, “Joe Francis Gone Wild.” (Francis is the guy who created Girls Gone Wild (NSFW))

Anyway…about halfway through the show, I heard a really familiar sound fading up in the background. I turned up the volume on the show, and, sure enough, it was a piece of a song from a CD I recorded a few years ago.

ghost7, New Directions in Static, 2004

As the wow feeling of hearing something I had made broadcast this widely subsided, I started thinking about other aspects of the situation: shouldn’t someone have contacted me, shouldn’t I be getting paid for this?

And here’s where the irony, or at least the thought-provoking conundrum, begins.

I know how hard it is to earn a living playing music (or even just to cover your expenses). Yet I have, ahem, “friends,” who download all kinds of “free” musical content. And when I lived in Japan, I had other, ahem, “friends,” who rented lots of CDs from Tsutaya (the Japanese Blockbuster Video) and copied them onto MiniDisc to build their music collections, thus depriving the artists of their cut of a CD sale. (For a great breakdown of the traditional music industry business model, and a startling look at the reality of making a living as a musician, check out Moses Avalon’s website and book, Confessions of a Record Producer).

My initial self-righteousness about getting paid for the use of my music highlighted a clear differentiation I’ve been making between creative “product” that comes out of the “entertainment industry” and what’s made by people like me, whose primary livelihood is something other than their music, art, etc.

Now that any content placed in the public arena is almost instantaneously redistributable, whither goes the business model/s for creative production? Are songs-as-products becoming obsolete, to be replaced by songs-as-loss-leaders, a la the Starbucks/iTunes “song-of-the-week” card?

How, in this freewheeling new world, will it continue to be possible to shift enough units to pay for the production of something like a U2 album or a feature-length film?

CD Cover, George Lynch (ex-Dokken), 2000

New analysis covered over at O’Reilly on Radiohead’s 2007 “pay-what-you-like” experiment for selling their album, In Rainbows, would seem to support the loss leader model, with the attention generated by the online trading of the album seemingly as valuable as any actual money earned through paid downloading.

I’d add as well that firing up the tour bus remains an essential part of the prospect. Aside from tribute bands, no one’s found a way yet to pirate the live performance. (Although perhaps the scenario in Kiss’ 1978 movie, where the band is attacked by a lookalike robot band, suggests one possible model.)

VHS box, Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park, 1978

But back to more grounded futuristic pondering. Is Karl Marx’ dream of making means of production accessible to ordinary people coming to fruition via peer-to-peer content sharing and the free flow of certain types of “raw materials?”

As the “redistributability” of content facilitated by the internet crossbreeds with technology and approaches like just-in-time production, 3D printing, and mass customization, will other types of product production also be wrested from commercial producers?

And will someone from E True Hollywood Stories please contact me about that royalty check?


Brotherhood is the latest Showtime series. I watched the first episode and I quite liked it. You could describe it (in a fashion reminiscent of Altman’s The Player) as West Wing meets The Sopranos meets The Wire (second season). But that doesn’t mean it was derivative, it just had familiar elements of storytelling, character, less than style.

But 3 minutes before the episode wrapped up, they went to the indie-emo-gritty-yearning-soft-hard-rock-song thing. Ya know, where a white guy-sing shouts slowly over plucky distorted guitar, while there are a bunch of slow shots. A character looks wistfully out at his city. Another turns over in his bed and stares at the wall. Meanwhile, the mother feeds her bouncing children in the kitchen, unaware of ill portent, as life carries on normally for other characters. I don’t know if those were the shots they actually used in Brotherhood, but they are so generic that it doesn’t matter.

I just read something about Michael Mann and his legacy in revolutioning the way we see TV drama, and they cited that very phenomenon. And normally, I don’t mind it. It evokes some great emotions on Rescue Me, on the Shield, the Sopranos. I remember Homicide: Life On The Streets using music (specifically Tom Waits’ Cold Cold Ground) very well. There was just something default about Brotherhood doing it. Oh, it’s a show, it’s dramatic, we better toss ’em the song at the 52 minute mark. Felt perfunctory and actually pulled me out of the show.

We build this language of signs and symbols that we use in drama (and in every form of storytelling, like advertising, and products, and web sites, and interfaces) and they are effective short hand. But we have to be careful to really mean them when we use, else they come off as insincere and cliched.

I’m excited to keep watching Brotherhood, but they’ve got me a bit on the defensive, ready for them to screw up. We shall see.


About Steve