New to the conversation? Check out my greatest hits!


Copyright: A Curious Case of CD Confusion

As we drift further and further away from physical mediums for art and become more connected through the internet, the real purpose and value of a "copyright" blurs. In this periodic series on copyrights, I'll take various angles on the idea of copyright and see if we can wrap our heads around the whole idea.

It's 1991, and U2 is at the top of their game with the reinvention of their sound on Achtung Baby, which later went on to go platinum EIGHT times on the US Billboard 200 Top Albums list. 

Life was good.

Then this started appearing in stores.

Fans were furious.

It was an EP featuring a remix of the song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" that the band made so famous. Except this version featured the original song mangled, kazoos, and Casey Kasem (of American Top 40 and Scooby Doo fame) shouting profanities at his staff.

Uh, what?

Turns out it wasn't U2 releasing an album called Negativland, it was Negativland releasing their EP named U2, with a picture of a U2 bomber on the cover. But people at the stores didn't know that. If you see the words U2, you expect Bono and crew doing their thing. 

It was a joke.

Needless to say, U2's lawyers unleashed their full legal fury on Negativland. Negativland (obviously) expected this lawsuit. That was the point of this artistic endeavor, to question the nature of intellectual property. The band's defense was that it fell under the umbrella of Fair Use. 

They lost, but that leaves an interesting question: Is this fair use appropriation of the music of U2? Where is the line between outright stealing (Ice Ice Baby not giving writing credits for the bassline) versus using samples in an entirely original way (Girl Talk and other mashup artists)? Should we have to pay royalties to write a song in the pattern of the twelve bar blues? What do you think?

For a more in-depth covering of this incident, check out Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2 that Negativland released later in the 90s.


Why Are So Many Musicians Crazy?

Charles Mingus, Buddy Rich, Jim Morrison... There's a long, loooong list of geniuses who went back for seconds at the craziness buffet line. Sadly, people have come to accept this from artists.

The same goes for the entrepreneurs that shape our industry. Henry Ford, Jack Welch, John D. Rockefeller...

Yahoo finance just put out an amazing article on how certain types of mental illness (specifically Mania in this article), when present in milder forms, actually help entrepreneurs. Jure Robic has broken countless ultra-endurance events (8 straight days of racing across 3,000 miles) by quite literally driving himself insane. (See also my previous article on artists as entrepreneurs)

Let's think about the parallels and why this is.

Most musicians fail at becoming full-time musicians / getting famous. Most startups fail within five years. A new band is competing with every major label band for attention. A new computer is competing with every other computer business in the same field.

The odds are against you. 

From the yahoo article: "You need to suspend disbelief to start a company, because so many people will tell you that what you’re doing can’t be done, and if it could be done, someone would have done it already,” says Paul Maeder, a general partner at Highland Capital. “There are six billion human beings on this planet, we’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years, we’re a couple hundred years into the industrial revolution — and nobody has done what you want to do? It’s kind of crazy.”"

And there we have it. It does take a little bit of crazy to think you can do something better than anyone else before.

But that's how absolutely everything we know and use everyday began.


So where does that leave us? Should we make the "rational" choice and just give up because our chances at success are so small? Should we sniff airplane glue until we believe we're the lizard king here to deliver the tastiest riffs ever picked out of a telecaster?

Not quite.

What we do, is balance.

Believe in your music, against all odds. Work, practice, hustle, sweat with the conviction that it will pay off. This kind of confidence inspires others and, more importantly, makes them confident that you actually can do the things you say.

But do not get lost in hubris. Be aware of your place in the world and what you can realistically accomplish. Set goals that are within your realm, don't plan on selling out a stadium when you can only pull 7 people to your shows. You'll get burned out. 

Success is a long distance race, not a sprint. Believe in yourself, but be real.



Courtney Love on "The Biz"

Out of the many musicians on the planet, Courtney Love is not who I expected to write such a brilliant article on the current state of the music business. It's a brilliant macro-level view of what's been going on in the last decade. Most importantly, she gets to the heart of the issue. Record labels are distributors. That's it.

And this was written back in 2000.

Without further ado:


Of Unicycles and Songwriting

Unicycles seem magic. Somehow a stick with a wheel on it being used as a means of transportation seems inefficient. But it works. A good friend of mine decided to take up unicycling as a hobby (?) a year back and now regularly commutes to work on it. He wants to start a unicycle crew and roll around town clowning on those with two or more wheels.


To an outsider, unicycles seem magic. But really it doesn't take anything more than practice and strong knee pads. It's a skill. Sure, you can read articles on unicycling, watch youtube videos of professionals in action, or purchase "super high-quality" unicycle accessories to try and get better. But it's a skill. You get better at unicycling by unicycling

The same goes for songwriting.

Is it any surprise that the great songwriters of our generation have massive song catalogs? Sure, there's trash in all vast archives, but that doesn't matter when you create songs that become cultural touchstones. 

Let's get down and nerdy.

Think of song writing skill as a percentage of good songs, similar to a free throw percentage. Assume you've got a songwriting skill of 7%, meaning whenever you write a song you've got a 7% chance of it being "good" as determined by your audience. If you only write five songs a year, what are your chances of putting out a decent album? What if you write five songs a month? A week? 

What matters is both your songwriting skill percentage AND the number of attempts you make. There are limits to how good you can make your songwriting skill through laboring over a single song, studying, or otherwise avoiding writing songs. If you want to be good at a skill, practice it! This should not be hard for musicians to understand.

And as you increase the number of songs you write, you'll get better too. Going from five songs a year to ten songs a year gives you more practice writing, performing and editing these pieces, giving you a stronger idea of what a good song is and is not. You'll understand your strengths and weaknesses, and how best to leverage the talent you've got to create a memorable piece.

If you want to write good songs, write more songs. 


Being in a Band is Marriage

I was talking with another musician about dealing with band issues, and he let slip this little gem:

"Pfft, that's not bad. The only time my band gets along on stage. We're always fighting!" Then he smiled and laughed.

Wow. Isn't that appalling? Only on stage?

A few months back I watched as a strong, decent-pulling band imploded.  All the sweat, callouses, and brilliance poured into the band evaporated in a flash. It was band dynamics; corrosive personalities ate the band alive. It was terrifying.

This can happen to any band at any time... You can lose everything at any moment. This is a truth. 

A band is an artistic vessel that requires the strong cooperation of personalities. But creativity is disruptive by its nature. There will be conflict. And it is how you handle these conflicts that will determine your success or failure as a band. It's about relationships.

When you join a band, you're married. Instead of a wedding ring you get cheap beer, but it's a full-on wedding. You must understand your partner to have a successful marriage. Does your bassist have trouble with directions no matter where he's going? Does your guitarist get touchy when you talk badly of a band he likes? Does your singer smell really bad and scare off fans? Every person has their own personality quirks and habits that range from mildly irksome to a full on terror. Your decisions and actions must take these issues into account. The only security you have against a band breakup is how well you manage your relationships to keep everyone happy.

How do you get better at this?

1. Outside Learning

Start reading relationship advice and management columns/blogs. Study books on keeping your marriage strong (I'm not kidding!). Take a class at a community college on organizational behavior to learn the psychology of how people behave in groups. Anything to help you decode the dynamics of people interacting with one another can help you learn how best to handle drama when it shows up for a visit.

2. Inside Learning

Every issue you have is an experiment. You respond according to your hypothesis, and the result either confirms or disproves your hypothesis. Take notes on band issues, how you handle them, and the results of your actions. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn how to best manage your band mates, but it's sooooooo easy to ignore. If your bassist doesn't respond well to a direct criticism during practice, you now know you'll have to adjust how to talk about issues with them. Keep tinkering until you get the response you want, then take note of what works for future purposes.

A band is a marriage. If you want it to last, learn everything you can about your spouse and your relationship. It's all you've got keeping the ship afloat. 


Side Project: The Great Nothing

To blow off some creative steam while the The Golden Vine slowly coalesced, I decided to buy a bare bones copy of protools and put together an ambient / doom side project to give my OWM writing skills a rest. Sometimes the best way to get fire up your creative energy is to do something new and totally unrelated to what you're accustomed to do.

I'm very pleased with the result of this project, and I feel very revitalized to start writing for our next album already.

The Great Nothing is a 20 minute, four movement piece about the creeping of nihilism that haunts our steps towards improving the world. Time coldly erases all. It is about facing the part of ourselves that wants us to fail at any cost. It is a scary piece, for sure, but ends with hope. The fight can never be won but we must fight regardless, for all we have is our actions. We must be good.

We must be good.

In this song, I play using only guitars I've built (a doubleneck bass/guitar and a p bass), my voice droning, and sound effects from objects in my reach including a squeaky chair and a computer keyboard. I avoided doing multiple passes on each track to correct mistakes, it felt better with chopped and chipped notes. The musical lines are threads of thought, attempting to make sense of The Great Nothing, with imperfect results. No matter, minute details are of little importance. It's about the journey, and it's about the cause.

This EP/really-long-song is best administered in a quiet room with headphones. I made the track downloadable so you can carry it to wherever would be best to listen to it.

It's a personal journey.

I won't name the movements. I won't explain the stories behind each section. I won't impose any more meaning beyond what I've said.

Like all of life's experience, it's only you who can imbue it with ultimate meaning.

It's a personal journey.