"If you create while the whole world is watching, you’re not really creating, you’re playing up to the cameras in your own reality show." —Amir Said
"If you create while the whole world is watching, you’re not really creating, you’re playing up to the cameras in your own reality show." —Amir Said
By Amir Said
Why is the NFL's business model so solid, and why is there so much talent parity throughout the league? I'll tell you why: It's because the NFL values veteran leadership. Indeed, the NFL routinely recycles proven winners at coaching and front office positions.
In contrast, the major record companies have traditionally relied on leadership that was never REALLY proven at all. In the old music industry, a "hit record" was secured through the avenues of traditional media and controlled distribution channels. So when traditional media gave way to new media and when new distribution channels opened up, fraudulent music experts were exposed.
Success of Miami Dolphins: One Example of NFL's Solid Business Model
The competitiveness of the Miami Dolphins football team is not a fluke. It is a direct result of Bill Parcells' proven leadership. On the other hand, the so-called proven track record of some of the music industry's greatest names is not the result of their leadership, but instead the benefit of a rigged playing field that virtually guaranteed hit records—so long as the general public only had real access to just a few artists already in the machine. And now that music listeners have real access to choice and variety, it should come as no surprise that many of the music industry's most celebrated leaders have nothing really to celebrate at all.
By Amir Said
In case you haven't noticed, radio broadcasting is increasingly losing its influence over the general public's music listening (and buying) decisions. In his rather organic and illuminating study, author and Wired Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson notes that "in 1993, Americans spent an average of twenty-three hours and fifteen minutes per week tuned in to the radio;" and that by the spring of 2004, that figure "had dropped to nineteen hours and forty-five minutes" (a 15% decline), bringing traditional radio listenership to a "twenty-seven year low." To be certain, traditional radio listenership continues to spiral downward. In fact, if the current rate of decline simply holds up, 2009 will show an 8% decrease in traditional radio listenership. This means that since 1993, there will have been at least a 25% nosedive in traditional radio listenership—a rather precipitous drop, to say the least.
Where Have All the Traditional Radio Listeners Gone and Why
There are many reasons why radio listenership continues to decline at such a rapid pace. Radio behemoth Clear Channel and its one-size-fits-all radio centralization—what Anderson rightfully regards as Clear Channel's bland homogenization—has indeed played a role. And we can not overlook the fact that the increasing lack of artistry found in the music industry-pushed "hits" has also prodded some music listeners away from the radio. But these factors represent the under card. The main event—if you will—is choice and variety.
Remember when we "heard it on the radio?" Well, yeah, that was back when we really had no choice. Let's remember: Traditional radio represents the old “hit” music model of narrow choice and low variety; no choice or variety meant that you had to listen to the radio and whatever traditional media deemed as a hit. But the web age has truly brought more choice and variety through a myriad of more music listening options. With the expansion and popularity of the internet as well as the advent of the must-have iPod and other MP3 players, many traditional radio listeners peeled away from the radio and moved towards those options that, in effect, allowed them to be their own personal radio programmers.
So Who’s still listening to the radio?
Whether due to unchecked arrogance or denial, broadcast radio culture has failed to see the writing on the wall. Indeed, instead of opening up their programming and shifting to a more variety-based structure, radio stations (particularly in the urban market) are pairing down their playlists, essentially walling them off from the threat of any real variety. So entrenched is this culture that many of the same household radio personalities from 1993 are still on the radio in the same regional markets. This certainly begs the question, How can the very people who have been behind the wheel during the decline in radio listenership still be given the keys to drive broadcast radio towards new horizons? The answer, of course, is: They can't!
In fact, I would argue that many of these held-over radio personalities have been left in place just to cater to those music listeners who have yet to escape the traditional radio programming model. After all, if there is as much as 75% of the once-mighty radio listenership, one can understand why the grand old music industry is still supporting the old radio model. For the music industry—which is seemingly dedicated to bleeding manufactured formulas dry—is always the last to know when something new has emerged, and something old has died.
(1) Anderson, Chris, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, (New York: Hyperion, 2006), 35.
By Amir Sa'id
(Originally published on BeatTips.com)
When electronics giant Best Buy recently announced the launch of their in-store "Club Beats" section -- a section specifically for DJ and music production-related products -- my first thought was: Sam Ash and Guitar Center may soon need to merge. My next thought was: This will inevitably further effect the quality of "professional" music.
Before I ever owned an EMPI (Electronic Music Production Instrument) of any sort, I already knew that the creative musical process was a daunting task mastered only by those who spent extended hours in music studies, and those who pledged the depths of their imagination and ingenuity in the service of making art. I also knew that even the most money-inspired music artists had standards of quality and professionalism. That was then.
There has always been high-end and low-end music audio and recording gear and equipment. But some time around 1995, mid-end gear began taking a stronger hold of all gear sales; subsequently creating a new music gear and equipment retail market commonly known as the "prosumer" market.
No other music sector has been impacted by the prosumer market explosion more than hip hop/rap music. Hip hop/rap music, made chiefly through the art of beatmaking, has long been achievable through audio recording tools of low ability. Thus, as technological advancements made it more possible and, I should add, much more practical for EMPI manufacturers to assemble products for the prosumer market, more consumer-musicians (hobbyists) aggressively pursued the ranks of professional musicians. This was cool, so long as the pursuit of the professional music career included a respect for and recognition of the demands of the artistic integrity-based creative musical process.
But the rapid development of the prosumer market has had unexpected consequences in hip hop/rap music. Although technological advancements have, in effect, handed over the music-making process (in this case, beatmaking) to virtually anyone, it has also not only diluted the creative musical process, it has blurred the line between consumer-musician and professional musician. Now, I'm all for more consumers being able to actively participate in the world of music-making. That being said, however, this occurrence should not come at the price of losing standards of quality that the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions have long employed.
If we look at the case of Soulja Boy Tell "Em, perhaps the most well-known case of a consumer-musician in recent history to leap fast into the ranks of professional musicians, we can see a great deal. Less we forget, Soulja Boy's rise to stardom had more to do with a teenager's effective use of the social media websites, MySpace and YouTube, than it did with a respectable knowledge of and serious commitment to either the art of rapping or beatmaking. This is not a knock against Soulja Boy, or any other rapper/beatmaker of similar vocation. Instead, this is a reminder of how notions of "quality" hip hop/rap music can easily be misconstrued. When a one-time occurrence like a dance craze and social media phenomenon propels the commercial success of a record, in this case, Soulja Boy's "Crank That (Soulja Boy)," which was predicated upon a pedestrian-level hip hop/rap beat, there is the risk that far too many people will perceive such a record as some measurement of quality. When this happens, many consumer-musicians (many of which who are not too committed to the creative musical process in the first place) surmise that they, too, can capture lightning in the bottle. Inevitably, what happens next is an onslaught of similar beats, and similar "dance crazes." And with so many people duplicating the exact same sub-par, incredibly minimalistic (for all the wrong reasons) beats, the concept of a quality beat and/or a professional musician is dramatically compromised.
Regardless of region, age, race, or ethnicity, whenever there's a lack of commitment to the art of rapping and beatmaking, and a dilution of the concept of a quality beat and a professional musician, hip hop/rap music suffers; and hip hop culture becomes more trivial, while its power and appeal weakens. When this phase occurs in hip hop/rap music, the only solution is a reaffirmation of what constitutes an artistic integrity-based creative musical process. This brings me back to Soulja Boy.
What is most interesting and revealing about Soulja Boy's case is the fact that his recent reported musical association with Kanye West might be less of a reflection of marketing a new music project, and more of a reflection of his recognition of what constitutes higher quality in hip hop/rap music. In an interview with XXL Magazine (October), Soulja Boy said of Kanye West, "I work with a lot of artists but out of all of the artists I worked with I think that's the only artist that try to push my talent to the next level, like it wasn't easy working with him..." (XXLMag) And in an interview with KeepItTrill.com (November), Soulja Boy said, “Me as a producer, I think I’ve grown tremendously;” while further revealing that Kanye showed him "a lot of stuff." (KeepItTrill.com)
So even if Soulja Boy doesn't recognize that his future success depends upon his commitment to a more informed, more artistic integrity-based creative musical process, at least he's acknowledging that Kanye West, unlike him, is widely recognized for pushing music talents to the next level. Moreover, Soulja Boy seems to be reaffirming my point: That the consumer-musician's leap to the ranks of professional musicians is cool, so long as there's a recognition of the demands of an artistic integrity-based creative musical process.
In summary, Best Buy's recent muscle-move into the prosumer music audio and recording market will inevitably put the EMPIs of beatmaking into the hands of more consumers than ever before. This, in turn, will increase the number of consumer-musicians who aspire to join the ranks of professional musicians. So what does this mean for the metrics of quality in hip hop/rap music in the future? Well, on one hand this means that there will be further dilution of the concepts of a quality beat and a professional musician. On the other, this could mean something beautiful. You see, there is one important "X factor" that must be considered here. Unlike typical music audio and recording stores, Best Buy receives a heavy load of kid (tween) foot-traffic. And thus, the earlier a consumer dives into the art of beatmaking and the creative musical process -- without any interference from those who are less committed to the art and craft -- the more likely it will be that the consumer will be able to really study and learn the art of beatmaking and the broader hip hop/rap music tradition. Should this happen, and I believe it will, the overall quality of hip hop/rap music will soar.
By Amir Said
There's black, white, and in between. When dealing with race and questions of self-identity, it's the "in between" where you will, at times, find some of the most engaging art, some interesting cases of valuable knowledge, and, unfortunately, some of the most absurd instances of ignorance. The book, How to Rent a Negro, and its subsequent commercial internet property, "rent-a-negro.com,” are a curious combination of knowledge, ignorance, art, and good old fashion American entrepreneurship.
When I first learned of these two rather alarming entities, I automatically assumed that the architect of such provocation had to be an "educated black person" of some sort. Alas, I was right. damali ayo (she insists on presenting her name in lower case) is indeed educated and also artistically informed. I'm somewhat aware of her work, and I applaud her for her consistent pursuit to encourage (or rather provoke) realistic dialogue and discourse on race relations. Hence, in the following piece, I will not be attacking ayo or even her enterprises. Instead, I'm only interested in how such enterprises might come about. More specifically, I want to explore the back story of so-called "educated black people,” and contrast it with their current narrative.
Before I proceed, here, I must define what I mean by "educated black person.” The phrase itself has a deep and long history in black American culture, a history that is far too complex to handle in this piece. And although I will not drag anyone through that particular history, I would, however, like to draw attention to only one of the two main groups that routinely receive the "educated black people" moniker. This First Group, if you will, are composed of black Americans who seek to resolve the question of their own black identity by becoming what I like to call "art-textual experts" on black identity. This group of black Americans fall into two categories: (1) those who grew up socially amongst whites, (i.e. did not grow up around many blacks, if any at all); and (2) those who grew up among blacks of upper-middle class socio-economic standing. (Suffice to say, some members of the first group of "educated black people" fall into both categories.)
Also, before I proceed with the crux of my exploration, I think it is necessary to introduce one more context for reading this piece: the fact that the "educated" description of white people is almost never used in the same context as it is with blacks. You might regularly hear/see the term "highly educated" in conjunction with the description of whites, but that is because it is somehow naturally assumed that white people are educated. Thus, the use of the adjective "highly," in this case, is just a way to distinguish a higher degree of a “naturally assumed education.” Think about that...
Now back to the exploration at hand…
The typical story of the "educated black person" of the First Group goes something like this. Having grown up, regularly co-mingled, and interacted with whites, the "educated black person" goes on to college (as is expected of someone of their socio-economic standing). At college, the First Group soon gains a form of “cover.” For students of all races and ethnicities, college usually provides a level of physical and emotional distance from the only family and friends they've ever known. So it is understandable that many of these students "discover" things about themselves--that is to say, things about their ethnic/racial heritage. For many blacks with a white socio-educational background, this discovery often takes place in the form of what I call a “black identity awakening.”
There are two levels of “reorganization” that are central to the black identity awakening that some blacks of white socio-educational backgrounds experience. There’s “social reorganization” and then there’s “scholastic reorganization.” Having gone, in some cases, as many as 18 years without many black friends (if any at all), this First Group "educated black person" reorganizes their social structure. This often includes a more pronounced adventure into and appreciation for black music (in particular hip hop, jazz, and reggae) and other Afro-centered art forms. Also, almost always at the core of this social reorganization is the notion of friendship and romantic (sexual) interaction with other blacks, (something considerately “new,” given their social backgrounds prior to college). Indeed, having had a limited number of black friends (if any at all), this First Group of "educated blacks" now actively pursue both friendships and romances with other blacks.
In the scope of the “scholastic reorganization,” some within the First Group of "educated black people" aim to learn more about the cultural history of black Americans as well as other blacks throughout the African diaspora, while seemingly increasing their own sense of black identity. This process usually involves taking more elective courses related to African American history (aka Black Studies). It also includes an increased interest in many black cultural and community events.
After completing their undergraduate studies and obtaining a degree, reflective of either their broader or specific interests, members of this First Group of “educated black people" typically head off to graduate school. After obtaining an advanced degree, often at some point through an Ivy League institution, some members of this First Group of “educated black people” eventually venture into the market place, where they quickly (typically) learn to market what? Yep, their so-called "expertise" at intimately knowing both black and white people in a way that most people do not or could not. But, no matter how interesting existing "in-between" worlds may be, what I find more engaging is the level of acceptance each world actually affords the so-called "educated black person” of the First Group.
Here, I want to return your attention to the book, How to Rent a Negro, and it's companion website, "rentanegro.com." I have one sobering question: How much outrage would such a book (title notwithstanding) and website cause, if its creator were white?
Finally, to be fair, I am certainly not making the case that all "educated black people" are propagators of the kind of ignorant satire that damali ayo has seemingly orchestrated. Instead, my exploration (brief as it is in this article) of a select group of "educated black people" has really been an attempt to examine just how a black American could come to create a "product" that is so incredibly insensitive and degrading to all black Americans. What I've concluded is this. Somewhere in the educational and social processes of the First Group of "educated black people," the wires between dignity, pride, integrity, self-respect, common decency, "Booker T. Washingtonism," reckless opportunism, and capitalism get crossed. For most "educated black people," these separate spheres of influence usually reconcile properly. That is to say, dignity, self-respect, and common decency move to the forefront, while reckless opportunism and capitalism fade to the back. That being said, however, there is a small percentage of "educated black people" for whom the aforementioned reconciliation is carried out improperly. On that note, here's some more free press for damali ayo (again she prefers her name in lower case)...
You decide... Is it engaging knowledge, is it provocative art, is it plain ignorance, or is just entrepreneurship disguised in satire?
Throughout the mighty 2008 United States Presidential election, there was perhaps no one "analyst" that I listened to more carefully than former Vermont Governor and former DNC leader, Dr. Howard Dean. His insight into the eventual outcome of 2008 was sharp and always on point. And now, as the temperature on the health care/insurance reform debate has heated up, it is again Dr. Howard Dean who continues to make the most resonant observations. And the most revealing observation that Dean has made thus far deals with his speculation that Obama will ultimately push for and get the public option into whatever health care/insurance bill that comes out of Congress. More specifically, Dean has shed light on the likelihood that Obama's recent "soft" comments about the public option are really calculated statements designed to show that Republicans (by and large) are not up for any reasonable (good faith) compromises or negotiations, and that furthermore, they're actually opposed to any reform in health care and the health insurance industry. I have a feeling that this time Dr. Dean is right once again.
Check out: http://standwithdrdean.com/
Somewhere, somehow, when I was younger, I got the notion that slaves were only owned by rich white men on big plantations. Truth is, slaves were a common thing; many whites (rich or poor) in the South in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries owned at least 2 African (black) slaves. Even more haunting than that, however, is the fact that many slave owners (white males) fathered children with many of their female slaves. The "inconvenient truth" here is the fact that, on most occasions, the slave owners sold the children they sired...
Ever sense the mainstream media fell asleep on the job six years ago, by not diligently scrutinizing the malarkey the Bush administration pushed about Iraq, Sadaam Hussein, and WMDs, they have been clamoring to "make it right." Well, having begun the a 12-step redemption program--the first step being their role in getting President Obama elected--they're seemingly focused (well, at least MSNBC is) on making sure that the health care debate not only gets a fair shake, but that serious wholesale health care and insurance reform actually gets done. To that I say: Kudos, mainstream media. Glad to see you're awake on the job again.
Seven months after Obama's historical presidential election, it's clear that culture has taken on a new meaning. Whether because of mental, financial, and/or an emotional threat, there is a group of Americans who have found themselves on the other side of cultural progression and plain old common-sense reason. These "Americans" (in quotes because they believe that America is there's alone) are mostly middle and lower middle-class, middle-aged white males (and some females), who have increasingly become phobic of anyone's rights or progress but their own. There is no leader among them. Instead, their guidance is provided by double-talking lobbyists (ex-Congressmen) and corporate front-men who's only interest is to keep things as they were.
These "Americans," now collectively known as the "lunatic fringe," are increasingly using mob rhetoric, and are becoming more and more embolden by some notion that this is 1776, and they have the right to grab their muskets and blast away at the British. Only, their gun scopes and mental break-downs are not being directed at some Governor from the old empire across the pond. On the contrary, this lunatic fringe has its sights set on all reasonable Americans who are concerned with moving the United States forward rather than, well, no where.
But the problem with the notion that one can stop the charge of change is that is premise itself is entirely undermined by the limits of human biology. Yes, despite any effort to compromise the certainty of age, the truth is: we all get older. Likewise, change happens, with or without those who prescribe to its fundamental role in life. So here, it's not that I'm concerned with if change is going to happen. Indeed, it has: my 13 year old son knows more about the United States Constitution and "clash for clunkers" than he does about this year's NFL rookie class--and he studies the NFL draft like Mel Kiper's paying him a commission. What I'm concerned about. No, what we all must be concerned about is what price is this lunatic fringe going to make us pay? Will it be two U.S. Senators? Will it be a mom or a dad, a daughter or a son? Will it be another Security Guard? Another federal building? Another bombshell to the American pysche?
You see, when I think about the lunatic fringe's recent "disruption strategies," it alarms me far more than the "birther talk." These disruption strategies, that force innocent, information-seeking Americans into a sort of clash with the lunatic fringe, have gone dangerously too far. And that reminds of something that I learned a long time ago: one fool with a gun can mess it all up for everybody.
For a long time now, the studios have wanted to curtail the paydays for movie stars. Indeed, it's a key component for their plan to restructure the film industry's fledgling business model. But the studios have never had the right opportunity (or justification) to do so, that is, until now. The current financial shit-fall that's echoing around the world has finally given Hollywood studios the green light to low-ball movie stars. In her recent piece on The Daily Beast, Kim Masters reports on the paltry $250,000 that was offered to Scarlett Johansson and Mickey Rourke by Marvel Studios, the studio behind Iron Man 2. Until this stink bomb of an offer was dropped, Johnson and Rourke could have expected to clear seven figures, easily. I mean, what's the going rate for a sequel to a hit franchise? But it isn't just the offers that are raising the eyebrows of studio helmers and having movie stars across LA scurrying to check their bank account balances, it's the caveat that came with the offers: 'take it or leave it, we have other options!'
Crises offers opportunity. So it should really come as no surprise that major Hollywood studios would use the current economic crises to push ahead with their long-time desire to slash the salaries of movie stars. Gone are the days of Will Smith paydays, (well, for everybody except Will Smith). Yep. Talent will now have to take a drastic cut in salary and compensation, because the business model of the film industry, as we've known it for the past 15 or so years, is now in hospice. However, things aren't all bad. There are two 'bright sides' to this. The dramatic salary cuts for talent will inevitably place even more of a premium on great acting and even better writing.
Pay cuts across the board means that tier 2 actors (famous names but non-superstars) and tier 3 actors (respectable 'working' actors with minimal fame) are gonna have to compete with each other, more than ever before, for plum, decent paying roles. And let's not forget, that all actors are going to have to make up their losses in volume, which means that tier 1 actors will be regularly swooping down and snatching up spots that would normally have not met their standard paydays, and would have therefore easily gone to tier 2 thespians. In effect, Marvel Studios' hard-line offers have set in motion the leveling of the ubiquitous acting playing field, and has initiated a potentially more complex casting process -- one in which actors will be forced to do more call-backs and screen-tests than usual... OH SHIT! Are we headed back to a time when actors did exclusive multi-year (indentured servant-like) studio deals? SAG, please say it ain't so...
Fact is, there is an ideological shift that's been brewing in Hollywood for a long time. It's actually a shift to an old ideology -- you know, the one that deems talent as merely an interchangeable (easily replaceable) business expense. The shift to this ideology has been subtle for some, but more obvious for those who recognize good acting when they see it. The thing is, overall, the quality of acting in film, and especially television, has been going down, way down, over the past decade. This is no accident, the studios realized long ago that the movies are one of the most fundamental activities of popular culture, and that therefore, people are going to go to the movies no matter what, even if the stories are shit and even if there's no big name stars in them. Well, be prepared because this ideological shift is about to gain even more fervor. But again, I have to maintain that this ain't all bad, because it will undoubtedly lead to more competition for roles, which will in turn lead to a higher quality of acting.
Finally, with the meat cleaver being leveled against the earning power of actors, you can expect to see better writing. Studio helmers know movies go even better with quality stories. They also know less qualified actors all but destroy great stories. Moreover, since decent television is being ran out of town by reality shows, quality writers will have no choice but to move more into film. And well, now since the studios can get superb talent on the cheap, they'll also being looking to secure great writing for next to nothing. Hence, it's the beginning of a new premium for top writers as well.