Category Archives: music

Employee of the Month Podcast

Employee of the Month podcast coverSometimes I scrub through top 10 lists to find what I’m missing and I ran into Employee of the Month. I don’t remember where. I use Downcast as my iPhone podcatcher, maybe there?

The show is Catie Lazarus interviewing people about their jobs. She does her research. It looks like she’s a comedy writer – she talks like a stand-up comedian, she’s quick on her feet. She sometimes asks really blunt questions and calls them out. The difference between she and someone like Marc Maron might be she’s comfortable putting the spotlight squarely on the guest and Finding the Truth, where Marc Maron injects himself into conversations so thoroughly sometimes it obscures the guest. The truth comes out with Maron sometimes but it’s often relational. He also heads where the energy is – if an interview shifts gears, he goes where the energy is. Catie seems to push very specifically at points until she’s satisfied or the guest changes the subject.

This deep analysis based on two I listened to by her – I’ve listened to a bunch of WTF. I picked out a couple related to music: Ryan Schreiber, creator of Pitchfork, the music website that manages to put the fear of God into indie bands everywhere, and Henry Rollins, who puts the fear of God into those indie bands as well as all other people who have listened to punk in the last 20 years.

The most interesting thing about Schreiber’s interview was Lazarus pushing him on still being an indie publication and forcing him to describe how after Pitchfork is now easier to find (for me, yes – they didn’t used to be the first hit on Google, it took a little searching to remember the URL, back in the day) and more mainstream, how are they different than Rolling Stone or other magazines. He basically says, our reviewers have better opinions and cover more obscure stuff (the latter definitely true, for good or ill). When she asks him to name music he’s finding that’s interesting now he blanks. This is truly odd. He’s a music critic. This is the point where his inner monologue should sort through the various albums from the past 10 weeks and settles on the three that stick out the most, gibbering about sharing the wrong one he loved the second most. I think he names one. So maybe he’s out of the reviewing game, and maybe pushing him when he’s the corporate head isn’t kind, except he says he isn’t the corporate head. Also, he leans back and forth from the mic so we can’t hear him sometimes. Come on, man! This can’t be your first interview.

She clearly came to the Rollins interview with child-like wonder. She mentions she grew up in DC, and went to ska shows in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In that scene, in DC, Rollins was a god. I grew up in Utah going to ska and punk shows in the early 90’s and Rollins was a god. In Utah.

But he’s an impressive guy. Over the interview I was tempted to draw circles – ‘scared of Mom and Dad’ and draw a line over to ‘works hard all his life to win approval from others instead’. Either way I admire the crud out of him. In high school I read a piece he wrote in Details magazine called “Iron and the Soul” where he talks about how weightlifting helped give him self-respect and identity. In the interview it comes out he was in a military prep high school, so the story about Mr. P pinning a kid against the wall makes more sense. Anyway. The essay meant a lot to me at the time. I may still have it upstairs in my Binder of Crap I Stare at Nostalgically along with my seventh grade class picture and emails with deep thoughts.

The thing about a piece like the Details article is, it’s obviously written for kids who have self-esteem issues. There’s no other reason someone who likes to work out would write it the way he did. This is a thing I really admire about Rollins. Besides his work ethic, he accepts that he’s a leader. He uses his power for good. He spends a lot of the Lazarus interview being self-deprecating about his success, but after a while it seems like he genuinely only lives to work. The work is the thing. When Lazarus presses him about joy, if it’s worth it, he hits on the best part of interview describing talking to fans after the show.

So that’s a job well done for Lazarus – I don’t come away from the interview with Rollins thinking, gee, Lazarus is a great lady, I come away thinking, Rollins, what a cool guy. So I admire Lazarus for that. I want to keep listening.

(PS If you haven’t, listen to her interview with Jon Stewart. She sets herself apart by being armed to the teeth with research but also some insight into some of his staff).

Can’t not share this great bit from Rollins – another inspirational bit that hit home for me a while back. He’s really plain spoken, something I’ve grown to appreciate.

I like music, music I like.

When I was living at home at my parents house when I was going to college I was heading to a blind date. It was early on a Saturday night, still sunny. Summer, late 90’s. I was driving my parents’ minivan. It didn’t have a tape-player, or the tape-player was broken, I was listening to the radio. I heard someone new. About a block from the blind date’s apartment I turned the minivan around, drove the ten minutes back home, ran inside and put a blank tape in my stereo and hit record, then went back to the van and drove then 10 minutes back to the blind date’s place. I ended up getting about 4 songs, but I did get the band/songwriter name: Ani Difranco. I apologized to the blind date when I got to her apartment, explaining I’d just heard some great new music and I had to record it. That was not my wife it didn’t go very far. The music is the key to the story here.

As far as I can remember these were the songs on the setlist. The song that caught my attention the most was probably the acoustic version of Out of Range. Ani plays guitar really really well, sings well and writes personal poetry, basically. There’s some profanity/sexuality in these songs.

It looks like Ani Difranco has put out 8 albums since the last one I listened to carefully, To the Teeth (1999), which my brother gave me for Christmas one year. Probably 1999. I haven’t kept up with her. I really like some of her stuff and am meh about a lot of it. I’ve really only followed a few bands over their careers. I’ve a fair-weather friend when it comes to music.

Here’s who I follow.

The Trashcan Sinatras

Sometimes Trash Can Sinatras (early) and sometimes Trashcan Sinatras (later) (worth mentioning because of the different when searching, Spotify has both, separately). My entrypoint was “Only Tongue Can Tell” (which got airplay on KJQ) then the local library had “I’ve seen Everything”. They make catchy alt-pop, maybe. Smart lyrics. They’ve mellowed as they’ve aged but instead of getting mushy they’ve gotten sentimental, and their songs are just as strong. As a gift my wife got me a T-shirt and tickets to see the band in New York, which was a weird show because the monitors kept them from hearing any of the requests they asked the audience for, but it was great. Honestly part of what kept me searching for them was that no one, absolutely no one I talked to knew the band. So I had that going for me.

The Shins

James Mercer, apparently, he ditched most of the band for his latest album, which kind of ticked me off, even though it’s still a great album. Entry point was Know Your Onion! which I downloaded somewhere as a single and didn’t get the full album, Oh Inverted World, until a year later.  They have four albums. All are strong. They got a lot of attention when one of their songs, New Slang, was on the Zach Braff movie Garden State, not just on the soundtrack but a song that the Natalie Portman character tells him to listen to in a hospital waiting room, and it was in a McDonlads commercial, which some people got mad about, but any exposure of good stuff is good, right?

Rogue Wave

Rogue Wave I really follow on and off. I really liked Out of the Shadow and Descended Like Vultures. Their later albums are good but don’t hit me as hard. They’re basically two guys, Zach Rogue and Pat Spurgeon.

Boise Library offering 3 free downloads a week

The Boise Public Library offers 3 free downloads of top-40 type songs every week.  That is, every week you can download three DRM-free songs. What you need to sign up is a library card number for the Boise Public system.

Freegal music

The system is called Freegal. I looked to see if this existed for my local library after I read a piece (I cannot remember, unhelpfully, where) about other libraries that purchased rights to MP3’s for people to download.

The content is very limited – they are largely top 40 albums and songs. I was able to find albums for Broken Bells, an alternative band I like, but that’s likely because they’ve broken into the mainstream charts. The Shins were there as well. Led Zeppelin is not. There are two albums of Mozart. Taylor Swift came up with a few covers. But 3 downloads a week is better than nothing, and it’s a good start to alternative media distribution models in libraries.

I found this by digging around in the “digital media” and “e-content” part of the website – if you want to find out if your library has something along the same lines, that’s where you’re going to want to start. Because libraries are investing in this, they are likely going to try to publicize it as much as possible so that patrons get use out of it. If you can’t find it on your library website, connect with a librarian and see what is available.

Related links: Lifehacker’s guide to How to (Legally) Boost Your Music Library Without Spending a Dime

Addendum 3-17-2014: Heard from someone in West Lafayette, Indiana – they have a program like this too

kids at shows with phones

We Are In The Crowd
Shot of a shot

Last night on “Guitar® Center Sessions” Nic Harcourt was interviewing Plain White T’s (it doesn’t seem to be on this podcast yet). They talked about kids with phones at their shows and how it changes the show. They talked about how signing to a major label came largely from “Hey There Delilah“‘s ubiquity on MySpace – technology has been good to them, they admit. But a couple of them weighed in on how it feels to have kids at shows with phones ‘covering half their face’ recording during the concert. Tim Lopez, who does guitar and some vocals, pointed out they feed off the energy from the crowd during the show to keep going, and technology creates kind of a distance.

They were quick to point out, though, that it widens access to music – if people want to see a certain performance of a song, they can – not just one performance, but several versions of the same song. What they didn’t say (but might have been thinking, as they reeled themselves in) was that people recording shows and putting them on YouTube is usually a sign of devotion, probably doing a lot more good than harm. Unless you really suck live, lots of videos of you on YouTube just increases your exposure. All these low-res shaky vids from little mini-promoters.

It’s probably illegal, a lot of it. Most bands aren’t too open about sharing their media, or if they are, they label isn’t. It might drag away hits from the Official Concert Video which may or may not be free to watch, but will likely have at the least a line into the mixer and a tripod, two things the homegrown shots don’t. It ticks some people off, and baffles others. The Wall Street Journal has a high-access take on it, covering Wilco (don’t do it) Radiohead (go ahead, we’ll help you) and other musician’s take on it. Prince is not keen on it.

I do like to see people who take initiative with the media recordings, though. Sometimes people edit together they and their friends’ footage from a concert to provide multiple shaky angles of the show. There are tools that do this for you – either to produce an integrated video or to watch the same thing from multiple angles. That service seems to be angling for the wedding video business, which is clever too, but it’s an idea with a lot of possibilities. Radiohead put up a hand-edited version of recordings from Flip-cams they passed out with great audio (their own), an example of which is below. The Beastie Boys did something similar and sold it as a documentary. My guess is, the bigger you are, the more it might be a threat, and the smaller you are, any word out is good word out.

kids with phones at concert
think if all that footage was edited together….a whole lot of shaky-cam

I can’t imagine if I’d had this kind of access as a teenager. I didn’t even own the music of most of the bands I saw. I went to many ska shows – whatever the ska band was that was coming through, or was local talent, I went to that show. Ska shows are fun in that you get in and start dancing and moshing or whatever and come out a sweaty mess. I once lost a pair of shoes at a show and couldn’t find them in the pile of recovered footwear at the perimeter of the grassy field as we left, so I went home barefoot. I guess that’d be different than standing and recording the show, which I’d have been tempted to do, as a gear-head. I would look at people in the back just standing there and watching and think, why did they even come? But they probably have their reasons. And a recording of a show is higher-fidelity than our minds, sometimes. But it also added risk, not knowing – if I didn’t have the money to buy the CD of the band before they came and didn’t hear their song on the radio, I had to see them on faith. Sometimes that was a great surprise, sometimes not. Now I can’t imagine seeing a comedian or band without having listened to a ton of their material and seeing how they are live. I don’t know if they are, but tickets seem to be more expensive, most of the bigger shows I want to see ask $40 or more. And there’s Spotify, which levels everything.

The biggest question that comes to mind for me is, am I going to back and watch the footage later? I haven’t rewatched the footage from my daughter’s school program from last year. Or most of the other video I’ve taken of my kids. I know it’s there, and I’ll get to it, eventually, probably, if I break a leg or something and can’t do anything and start cleaning off the computer. I usually go back to it when I wander into it. I do wonder, like everyone else, if we experiencing things through a 3″ glass filter.

Either way, it’s come a long way from a few years ago when I remember a co-worker explaining his want-ad in the local paper to see if anyone had pictures from the John Mellencamp show he’d been to the night before.