A mildly deranged amount of work
Read to the end for a bunch of bog himbos
The World Of Live Music Is Not OK Right Now
I was opening up my tabs to start writing this column and I typed in “touring,” searching for the article I had read a few days ago about how going on the road is a lose-lose proposition for many musicians and bands nowadays. But the first link that popped up in my Chrome search bar was not that one, but a New York Times article I’d bookmarked six years ago, when I was working as a tour manager for independent bands. The article, headlined “Touring Can’t Save Musicians in the Age of Spotify,” discussed the downsides of touring, mostly in the context of artists’ physical health.
At its conclusion, the article proposes that musicians retaining their independence from labels and freeing themselves of the shackles of the 360 deal might help make touring a more sustainable proposition. It’s an optimistic thought which now seems quaintly naive, held up against the stark reality as depicted in the article I’d originally been searching for. Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon, who was awarded the prestigious Polaris Prize last year, detailed how prohibitively expensive and excruciatingly stressful touring has become in the post-COVID era. You may have seen announcements on social media of mid- to low-level artists cancelling tours; relatively successful acts like Animal Collective and Santigold have had to drop entire blocks of shows, and meanwhile Taylor Swift gets away with scheduling a tour consisting of only Friday and Saturday shows. As Cadence Weapon puts it, in this economy, it’s music’s middle class that is suffering the most.
My close friends in the excellent band Thumpasaurus have been making music together for nearly a decade, playing to packed audiences in LA and releasing amazing albums, but it’s only this year that they’ve “taken off” thanks to a dedicated TikTok strategy which paid off in the form of a major global Samsung sync. It took a mildly deranged amount of work on behalf of the band members, who understood that in a world where touring can’t be counted on, their future careers rested in the hands of the TikTok audience.
Is the algorithmic meritocracy of TikTok, in which you have little control over whether you are dropped through the cracks into the oubilette of obscurity or launched into the sky by the catapult of virality, any meaningfully more preferable to the old analog system in which that destiny-inflecting power belongs to A&R executives lingering at the back of gigs with their arms crossed?
Of course, in a recession, everything is tight — people have to choose whether they’re going to spend money on necessities or concert tickets. One might well argue that the joy of live music, one of the most natural and ancient of human arts, is a necessity, but that doesn’t really help you out when dealing with Ticketmaster’s fucked up surge-based pricing system. Continued industry consolidation means many fans are being priced out of live music together, especially if their tastes run more to the mainstream and artists playing larger venues.
One of the main problems involves empathy and entitlement. Audiences don’t really understand the how damn difficult it is to be a musician today; they just want to see the concerts without going broke or getting sick, so when systemic issues affect that opportunity, they blame it on the visible face of the music. All of the frustration and anger ends up landing on the artist, who doesn’t always have the emotional tools or social support system to cope with that kind of influx.
What we’re seeing right now is a kind of taxonomic shift. Musicians are actively being stratified into strict layers of privilege based on if they can source the financial support for a tour; based on if they are able to dedicate the time and energy to promote themselves tirelessly on TikTok; based on how easily it is to categorize them into a marketing microgenre; based on if they’ve ever gone viral, and if so were they willing or able to take business advantage of that singular moment. This inchoate paradigm is what will structure what being a musician in the 2020s and beyond can look like.
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Fritz Is 302 Pounds Today
The Value Of Verification
To be clear: I don’t agree with almost anything in this thread except for the tweet above, especially the parts where he says journalists are too negative about tech. But I do think Twitter verification has been twisted into a status symbol and I don’t think it was a recent thing either. It’s always been one because the site, idiotically, has always relied on the same system for managing celebrities as it does for people like me.
The night I was verified I was in my early 20s and I was out at a bar with some other young journalists. I got the email saying my account was approved and held my phone up in the air and everyone made fun of me, but also someone bought me a tequila shot.
There was a sense that I was both now an important person and a real journalist. Which should never have been the case. Back when I was verified you needed to be to do the basic parts of my job. At the time, I was a breaking news reporter and verification meant I could easily identify myself and communicate with people during events like mass shootings or natural disasters or protests. And if Twitter had figured out a different way to give journalists the tools needed to report on their platform, which is also what made it so relevant, it’s possible a lot of the recent calamities at Twitter may have played out differently.
There are a lot of questions about who will stay on Twitter and who will leave. Personally, I’ll stay and may even start paying. I’ll make a more longterm decision after I go through Garbage Day’s traffic for the year and see if I still need Twitter as a traffic source.
But I also think we’ll know Twitter’s ultimate fate quite quickly. Twitter employees are being fired today. Paid verification will roll out next week, it seems. And, at some point very soon, a breaking news story will bubble up across the internet, as they always do. And journalists will try to use Twitter as they always have. There will be young reporters, just as I used to, tasked with trying to use Twitter to reach out for comment. Or there will be social media editors who try and share their outlet’s story with new important information faster than a competitor. And Twitter won’t work like it used to. The young reporters may not be able to afford the verification and their requests for comment won’t be seen. Or the social media editors’ pushes will get drowned out by some troll paying to amplify their NFT scam. And that will be the moment that decides the future of Twitter.
Elon's Twitter Purge Has Begun
It’s hard not to view what’s happening right now as a product of the site itself. The Twitter Main Character is now ravaging the company with his pitiful reply guy War Room. In the same way that January 6 was the complete articulation of the Trump era, Musk’s ransacking of Twitter feels inseparable from the culture that the platform was responsible in spreading across the internet for so many years.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize deeply with Twitter employees being let go today. I hammer Twitter a lot in this newsletter, but I’m also someone who has gone through violently painful layoff cycles and I’m also someone who has worked a lot with Twitter employees over the years. I always thought Twitter’s press team was both fast, and, most importantly, unlike some folks at other companies, usually wasn’t lying to me. I think Twitter employees, as a whole, may have been a bit disconnected from the horrible realities of their own platform, but every tech company is and that might not even be a bad thing.
Either way, what Musk and his weird and sad man crew are doing to Twitter is cruel, impressively stupid, and, it appears, illegal in many places! And there’s a lot of really smart people who suddenly no longer have to keep trying to keep Twitter alive and I am very confident that Musk’s loss is the internet’s gain.
The Bolsominions Are Having A Tough Week
It’s been five days since former President Jair Bolsonaro lost the election in Brazil. He hasn’t totally conceded exactly, but he has basically said that he’ll respect the constitution and cooperate with a transfer of power.
That hasn’t made things exactly peaceful in the country. Bolsonaro’s supporters, the Bolsominions, who all tend to wear the same Brazilian flag-themed shirts, have been trying their own version of the Freedom Convoy, protesting by blocking major highways. Except the Bolsominions made a few mistakes. First, they blocked roads leading to a major soccer game, so the Corinthians football club kicked the shit out of them. Whoops.
And, more crucially, they forgot to get truckers on board with their protest, which has led to this. Which, looming constitutional crisis aside, is quite possibly the funniest video I’ve seen in a long time:
Click here to watch it. Reels don’t embed on Substack.
The Third Era Of The Internet Is Here And It’s A.I.
I’ve been in Lisbon all week moderating panels at the Web Summit, doing interviews, and eating bacalhau. I did not do a follow up of my long Web Summit post from last year (blame Musk), but I did record an episode of my podcast while walking around the convention. You can check that out here.
Also, seeing as how Mr. Yeglesias up above thinks journalists should be more positive and excited about technology, I thought I’d mention one startup I interviewed this week that has, very honestly, blown my mind. It’s called Soundful. It’s a generative A.I. for music. You give it a genre, a BPM, and a key and it spits out a completely unique song in about 6 seconds. It wasn’t trained on existing music, but original works that the company commissioned. And the tracks it makes can be fully remixed and licensed. I’ve been playing with it all week and it’s a really amazing tool.
It also gave me a vision of the future with regards to A.I. that I can’t quite shake. In many ways, Web 2.0 apps are actually just smartphone engines. An app like Twitter or TikTok or Instagram take the camera on your phone and organize and optimize and supercharge its features. I think there will soon be apps that have a similar relationship to an A.I. — or multiple.
Imagine you, in the near future, open an app. You type out an idea, let’s say it’s “Elon Musk being fired into the void of space by the all the workers of the world, who are now also all unionized.” Then the app asks you if you want put your face in it, you snap a photo, and the app renders you as the one pressing the button that fires Musk into the air. The app asks you if you want the image to move. You hit “yes,” and type in a command like, “looping video, lots of movement” or whatever. Then you tell the app that you want whacky music underneath it, as well. All of this takes about as much time as the average person currently spends making a TikTok and then, after a quick render, the app spits out a little video of you uniting the Earth’s workforce by launching Musk into the dark expanse of space with a fun little soundtrack. You share your creation on a feed inside the app and suddenly other users start remixing it, changing the music, making the animation different, or adding their own faces to the unionized crowd watching Musk sail off into the cosmos.
I’ve spent a lot of time this week listening to people vaguely describe Web3 or the metaverse and explain how both are a revolution in how we use the internet. But I still haven’t heard anything coherent about how the blockchain or VR could actually change the world. Or even become popular enough to gain mass appeal. But A.I.? It’s here and it’s already changing everything.
A Good Quiz
This was being shared all over my Tumblr dashboard this week. I got 11/12 on it, which I think is pretty cool and definitely not lame actually. It was harder than I expected it would be…
Another Point Of View On The Whole Twitter Situation
Some Stray Links
I’m not sure I believe all of this about Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey’s plan to take over the world, but I believe enough of it to take it seriously!
P.S. here's a bunch of bog himbos.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
Hey - I'm the guy who wrote the Times piece that kicked off your post. (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/magazine/touring-cant-save-musicians-in-the-age-of-spotify.html). I'm also a subscriber to Garbage Day, and it was cool to see my work percolating in a blog I admire. I teach songwriting at several universities, and I've also had record deals of my own, so I come to the topic with a deep sense of empathy. Though I wrote mine before Covid, your post and my article are ringing a lot of the same bells (I just gave to former student Pom Pom Squad's GoFundMe after they were robbed in Milan https://www.gofundme.com/f/pom-pom-squad-replace-stolen-gear), but that's not what I wanted to say.
What I wanted to say is that "optimism," or "naivete" if you want to be less generous, is not to be discounted: It's a primary engine that drives music, and the industry. If you've ever been David, looked at Goliath, and thought, "You know? I think I can take him," you get it. One could go further, and call that drive "delusion" — many have, and they have the numbers to back it up. What else could allow such egregious contracts, in whatever form they presently exist, to persist?
And yet without optimism, what is there? When it's taken away, who are we?
In so many ways, this insightful post shows how little has changed. And as far as my current students are concerned, all I can do is quote my own book: "[Am I] optimistic? Yes. I am unapologetically optimistic for you. Optimism is armor. Pick it up, put it on, and shield yourself from the onslaught of useless distraction." Regardless what technology is at hand, the only way Goliath is going to fall is if you think you can take him.
The ‘oubliette of obscurity’ - brilliant evocation. Love this post.