Category: music

(some) money & beats & art

if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear on this blog, i can assure you that at least my friends are already well aware of my antipathy toward music streaming services.  it’s not because i’m an audiophile (my hearing never fully recovered after nine inch nails’ “fragility” tour back in 2000).  it’s not even because i have a janky internet connection at home (which i do).  it’s because i’ve yet to be convinced that any of the pay-for-service music streaming companies actually compensate artists fairly.

i know that my friends are aware of this opinion because one of them was good enough to email me a link to an article on the guardian this week regarding that very issue.  independent musician zoe keating shared her payouts in 2013 from iTunes, youtube, spotify, and other services—even going so far as to make the figures available publicly in a google document.  the guardian did some quick math, revealing that 92% of keating’s income still came from album sales, not streams.

it’s worth noting that the guardian also supplied an october 2013 quote from keating on this very topic:

I don’t feel like streaming is the evil enemy. I think it’s a good positive thing to get music out there… All I’m asking is make a direct deal with me, let me choose my terms.

while i do find keating’s transparency here quite admirable, i’d like to reiterate my earlier statement that, as a fan, i don’t actually care what the exact numbers are.  i don’t even care if a streaming service pays all artists the same rate (as beats music claims to).  what i care about is artists feeling like they’re getting a fair deal.  if they feel the system is equitable—regardless of where a given artist is at in their own particular career arc—that’s what i’m interested in.  and regardless of what numbers appear in keating’s spreadsheet, the thing i’m going to remember, and the thing that’s going to continue to keep me away from streaming services, is that keating still lacks control over who profits from her music.


p.s.  on a somewhat related note, last week new republic had a nice article on how/why book publishers haven’t exactly been as devastated by the digital revolution as the music & film industries.

Workin’ Woman Blues

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Valerie June’s latest album is called Pushin’ Against A Stone (2013). About the title, June said that as a self-taught musician, “I feel I’ve spent my life pushing against a stone. And the jobs I’ve had have been fitting for getting a true feel for how the traditional artists I loved came home after a hard day to sit on the porch and play tunes until bedtime.”

You can find Valerie June’s website here.

Here’s the official music video for the song.

The album is available for streaming on Spotify if you’d like to hear more. I’d suggest buying the album with no hesitation. It’s pretty great.

white folk bling

i wanna get this outta the way right up front:  i live in a deep, dark hole w/r/t pop culture.  and also, yes, i’m maybe a bit racist (especially w/r/t hip hop).  i just wanted to remind you.  in case there was any confusion as to why this whole macklemore/grammys backlash has me perplexed.  i totally get the whole “recording academy is out of touch” argument.  but, fuck, what awards association isn’t?  bitching about macklemore winning grammys is like bitching about a biopic winning too many damn oscars.  pissing & moaning about why *your* guy didn’t win (whoever *your* guy is) only serves to legitimize the whole absurd enterprise.  if you’re gonna attack the grammys at all, why not make it about the ludicrous prospect of giving awards for art?

but maybe you wanna make this about race.  and, to be fair, because we’re talking about america, you can pretty much bet race is a factor.  but is it the factor?  have we already forgotten that kanye west swept the 4 rap categories of 2011, and 4 of 5 in 2007?  or that lil wayne won 4 of 5 in 2008?  in fact, other than a handful of awards given to eminem, and a single award to the beasties in ’98, the grammy’s rap category has been completely dominated by black artists since the recording academy began awarding them in 1988.  so someone whingeing about a white artist in 2014 strikes me as someone actually having an issue with their own long/short-term memory.  if you’re gonna get on the grammys about diversity, why not make it about the GLARING omission of female hip hop artists (and not just in 2014, but for 25 years now)?

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money & beats & art

this past tuesday, beats music debuted.  if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a new streaming service being offered by a collective of pretty d*mn impressive people, including dr. dre, trent reznor, and jimmy iovine.  i did some searching around the internets and, near as i can tell, most of the media coverage around this launch was focused on that music dream team & how their product is different from pandora, rdio, spotify, rhapsody, itunes radio, youtube, etc. (the main talking point being that beats is an actual service, one curated by real humans instead of robots or algorithms or whatever).

but rather than a summary of beats’ product model, what i hoped to find was some music journalist who had broken down beats’ business model.  on none of the articles i found (even with click-bait titles such as “7 things you should know about beats music“) was the topic of artists’ revenue ever seriously covered.  i was most disappointed to not find any mention of that from pitchfork or sound opinions—until i learned that pitchfork & sound opinions were both “curators” on beats.  it was especially disappointing to not hear from the sound opinions co-hosts, not least because i’m a huge fan of greg kot, but also because jim derogatis tried to take pitchfork founder ryan schreiber to the woodshed over journalistic ethics for curating an online music tv channel.

the closest i found to any reporting on the issue was a throwaway graf at the end of a rollingstone piece:

Beats Music is also focused on creating a service that is fair to the artists whose music it streams, and will pay the same royalty rate to all content owners. “Beats Music is based on the belief that all music has value and this concept was instilled in every step of its development. We want it to be just as meaningful for artists as it is for fans,” Reznor said in a statement. “We’re committed to providing revenue to artists, while helping to strengthen the connection with their fans.”

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ring of fire pt. 2

so, do you remember that time i was talking about my favorite cover version of “ring of fire“?  i might have to stand corrected.  ray charles, performing the song— on, of all places, the johnny cash show in 1970—is basically too good to be true.  but don’t take my word for it…



cowpoke punk

so i was in a winery last night, on a very trendy strip of chicago that’s packed with restaurants from famous chefs, and i was there to see a singer-songwriter play a solo show with just his acoustic guitar.  the concert tickets assigned you a specific seat in the venue, but not in rows; they were chairs at tables fanning out from the stage, where you would be served by a waiter before, after, and during the show.  the friends i went with ordered a carafe of wine & it came in—i swear to god—an actual beaker (like, from a laboratory—with the mL markers up the side & everything).  i ordered a can of beer, which was opened in front of me & poured into a very fancy chalice.  we were seated less than 10′ from the singer’s microphone stand (and there were others even closer—right up to the edge of the stage, no more than 2′ from our troubador).

i tell you all that because it seems so unexpectedly bourgeois given who i went to that venue to see.  i’ve been a fan of the old 97′s for years now, and this show was starring their frontman, rhett miller.  i guess you could call them an alt-country band, but that somehow doesn’t do them justice (kinda like that label never really did uncle tupelo justice).  in fact, even as a fan of their music, i don’t really know how to do them justice with words.  this is no less true even when just talking about a single man, a mic, and his guitar.  so i’m gonna need some a/v support on this post.

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most of the people you see in the picture above didn’t know each other a couple weeks before that shot was taken.  two of the women were friends with each other.  and one couple was married.  the rest of us were strangers until we’d all landed in the kathmandu airport.  that was really the first time i’d ever taken a trip like that.  so i didn’t really know how good i had it.  some of my fellow trekkers made an offhand remark about how on previous group trips, they hadn’t been so lucky, they hadn’t gotten along so well with every member of the group.  i had nothing to compare it to, so i might’ve taken it a bit for granted that we’d gelled so quickly & awesomely.  we really did have a great group.

i just found out a couple days ago that my friend, and the only other male from that trip, died last week.  phillip had been in need of a liver transplant for many years, but medical complications kept him from getting one.  coincidentally, the day after i learned of his passing, john richards (the morning radio show host at kexp) did his annual “mom” show, which happens every november 13.  he started that show as a tribute to his own late mother, but it’s evolved into this kinda amazing experience where the community that john richards has built up over the years comes together to grieve for their own losses—to find comfort through music, and a connection to thousands of people they will literally never see or speak to.  people email in stories & requests, and john reads some of them on the air (he admits that it takes him days to get through everything that people send in).  that this is possible—and so incredibly moving—over the radio, in the 21st century, strikes me as nothing short of extraordinary.  and wonderful.  you can listen to yesterday’s morning show in it’s entirety through kexp’s streaming archive, and/or you can see the playlist of songs on their website.

phillip lived just outside seattle (where kexp is based), and he was a huge fan of music (not to mention, a musician himself).  i don’t know if he ever heard john’s “mom” show, but i think he definitely would’ve approved.  i didn’t get a chance to send john anything yesterday, so this one’s for you, phillip:

ian curtis is dead. long live ian curtis.

peter hook performs at the double door, 9/15/13 - photo © alejandra guerrero (

peter hook performs at the double door, 9/15/13 – photo © alejandra guerrero (

i’ve long felt that “regret” is an incredibly powerful word, one not to be trotted out lightly.  you can be disappointed that you sounded like an idiot, stumbling over your words, while trying to talk to your own personal hero, live in the flesh.  you can even be ashamed at your lack of courage, quietly enduring disrespect only to silently berate everyone (including yourself) after the fact.  but you can learn from those things & move on & become a better/worse/not-really-all-that-different person for it.  regret, though.  regret is like begging a genie from a magic lamp to let you go back & profoundly redirect the course of your life.  regret is the thing you’d probably feel after suicide if you were still capable of feeling.  regret you save for the heavy shit.

you regret not being honest about how you felt & telling that girl that, yes, of course, you loved her.  you regret going through four years of college (and even more years after graduation), reading all those goddamn books and not making the cognitive leap that, hey, you’ve always been a pretty decent writer, and, well, maybe you should try writing something like all those books you love so fucking much.

so it might be a bit of a stretch to say, now, i regret assuming that some late night rock show would start well after the posted start time, like they always do—except for this time, when it didn’t.  this time being when peter hook & the light brought their “movement/power, corruption & lies” tour to a tiny club in chicago at 11pm on a september sunday.  it might be a stretch to say i regret not showing up until almost 11:30.  but then again, maybe not such a huge leap after all.

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Terrain 2013







210 works selected from over 700 submissions.

103 artists.

10 films.

10 bands.

1 night.

Those numbers are a few of the ways Terrain, the visual arts/cultural extravaganza held in Spokane every October, describes itself. But to really get a sense of this incredible event, you’ll want to show up. You’ll want to meet some of the emerging young artists, experience the interactive art installations, view the incredible amount of talent housed in the region, hear some poems read, watch a film, dance your ass off.

Terrain is entering its 6th year, brought to fruition by the hard work of co-founders Ginger Ewing, Luke Baumgarten, and Patrick Kendrick. All three have full-time jobs, side projects, and their own art to concern themselves with, and yet every single year, they manage to put together an incredible, exciting, well-juried event that incorporates visual art, music, film, literary arts and more.

EWU MFA alumna Aileen Vaux will be reading her poetry during the event, and various other members of the literary arts community will be participating, attending, and marveling at what an amazing arts community Spokane has. Don’t miss it!


Friday, October 4

5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Music City Building, 1011 W. First Avenue, Spokane, WA

ring of fire


i used to think my all-time favorite cover version of “ring of fire” was the decidedly punk offering from social distortion (though honorable runner-up mention certainly goes to what eric burdon & the animals recorded).  turns out, though, my actual favorite cover was from another artist entirely: johnny cash.

what?  you didn’t know it wasn’t his song?  yeah, actually i didn’t either until a few weeks ago.  this is the true story of what i learned about the 50-year-old tune “ring of fire”:

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