Thursday, December 1, 2011

CALL IT CLASSICAL IF YOU MUST, BUT DON'T CALL IT CONTENT

I have to thank one of my viola playing friends for bringing to my attention a blog post by Courtney Love written in 2000.   That violist actually happens to play a mean electric bass, and jams with the dudes from King Crimson—a fav band from my Sturm und Drang filled teenage years.  So, to digress for a moment, this information tells you two things: 1) viola players are not solely fodder for orchestra jokes, and 2) today's classical musicians maintain wildly eclectic personal playliststhe sort which would blow Tim Westergren's mind.  (If you don't know King Crimson's music, check out the album Discipline.  It's like a pop presaging of Phillip Glass' The Photographer and Koyaanisqatsi.)  


You can read Courtney Love's astute albeit rambling post here, but I've included the few paragraphs salient to the present topic at the very bottom of my own post (which you are now reading).


I'm not particularly into Courtney Love's tunes, but I have to give her a standing ovation for hitting the nail on the head when chastising web-centric entrepreneurs who refer to music as content.   I'm guilty of this myself.  It's not how I feel about music... It's not how I relate to or know musical experiences.  The word content has become a convention of language in this line of work.  Yet: I've also spent a lifetime both on stage and behind stage and continue to do so, but as I drift deeper into the world of "digital media", I find myself employing the language of my geeky peers who like to dig the next cool thing from the box seats of Google's Grand Ol' Opry House.  That's bad.  Theythe geeky-minded entrepreneurial jet setas people, of course, are certainly not bad folks.  But: when using the word content to describe music?  Bad, bad, bad.  We shouldn't do it.  Ever.  


The reality is: music expresses the ineffable.  When done right, it channels something vastly more profound than even the notes themselves...and even more profound than the charisma of the artist serving as the shaman officiating that experience...and vastly more tangible than the monitor on a Mac or Motorola.  When it comes to the web: the thing that frames the magic of music, the chrome and context of how music is delivered through the plumbing of the internet...it's just thata frameand nothing more.  It's dangerous to confuse the two—i.e., to mix up in your words the magic and the stage on which the magician is standing.  It's important web designers and programmers--all artisans themselves--remain humble in this regard, and keep that in perspective.  Like smithing Hattori Hanzō samurai sword for a warrior about to go in to battle, building a website for Artists might be akin to that, but the designer or programmer are not the ones who ultimately deliver the coup de grâce to the listener's heart and soul.  Um...that person would be the Artist.  Our job, as the architects of a new distribution system for awesomeness, is just to chop wood and carry water to the frontline.


I want to find a way back to that understanding...and I want to find a way to experience and share real magic.  I want Bravoflix to be so good at what it does, you don't even know you're online.  I want to make our site so invisible, that it causes you to let your guard down, so that real Artists can pierce your heart with something arrestingly and terribly beautiful,  I love Pandora, and even Spotify is cool.  (Turntable.fm annoys me for reasons I can't explain.  Makes me feel like I'm listening to music while standing next to the drafting board of South Park's animator.)  But, with all of them, save sometimes with Pandora, I still feel like I'm being asked to enjoy...content.  As an artist, when visiting those sites, I'm not feelin' the love...or, actually, I feel Love...as in Courtney (not Donna Summer).


I can hear grumbling...coming from places like Austin and Mountain View.  Architects of physical buildings think of themselves as Artists.  And they are.  And, dear programmer friends, so are you.  A physical and built space can surely evoke awe, and even influence our behavior.  And so can a website.  We like to think, as builders of websites, as builders of businesses, and even as grand poobahs of commercial empires, that we have the "Secret Sauce"...the code.  No, my friends, we do not.  In the words of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj: "Religion is the camel which takes you to the house of God, but not the means by which you enter the house."  Just substitute the word "Website" for "Religion" and you'll get my drift.  If I plopped you down before a real Artist, you would instantly know: your secret sauce is stale in the face of salvation. 


Here's the excerpt from Courtney's editorial:


Content Providers


But there’s something you guys have to figure out.


Here’s my open letter to Steve Case:


Avatars don’t talk back!! But what are you going to do with real live artists?


Artists aren’t like you. We go through a creative process that’s demented and crazy. There’s a lot of soul-searching and turning ourselves inside-out and all kinds of gross stuff that ends up on “Behind The Music.”


A lot of people who haven’t been around artists very much get really weird when they sit down to lunch with us. So I want to give you some advice: Learn to speak our language. Talk about songs and melody and hooks and art and beauty and soul. Not sleazy record-guy crap, where you’re in a cashmere sweater murmuring that the perfect deal really is perfect, Courtney. 


Yuck. Honestly hire honestly committed people. We’re in a “new economy,” right? You can afford to do that.


But don’t talk to me about “content.”


I get really freaked out when I meet someone and they start telling me that I should record 34 songs in the next six months so that we have enough content for my site. Defining artistic expression as content is anathema to me.


What the hell is content? Nobody buys content. Real people pay money for music because it means something to them. A great song is not just something to take up space on a Web site next to stock market quotes and baseball scores.


DEN tried to build a site with artist-free content and I’m not sorry to see it fail. The DEN shows look like art if you’re not paying attention, but they forgot to hire anyone to be creative. So they ended up with a lot of content nobody wants to see because they thought they could avoid dealing with defiant and moody personalities. Because they were arrogant. And because they were conformists. Artists have to deal with business people and business people have to deal with artists. We hate each other. Let’s create companies of mediators.


Every single artist who makes records believes and hopes that they give you something that will transform your life. If you’re really just interested in data mining or selling banner ads, stick with those “artists” willing to call themselves content providers.


I don’t know if an artist can last by meeting the current public taste, the taste from the last quarterly report. I don’t think you can last by following demographics and carefully meeting expectations. I don’t know many lasting works of art that are condescending or deliberately stupid or were created as content.


Don’t tell me I’m a brand. I’m famous and people recognize me, but I can’t look in the mirror and see my brand identity.


Keep talking about brands and you know what you’ll get? Bad clothes. Bad hair. Bad books. Bad movies. And bad records. And bankrupt businesses. Rides that were fun for a year with no employee loyalty but everyone got rich fucking you. Who wants that? The answer is purity. We can afford it. Let’s go find it again while we can.


I also feel filthy trying to call my music a product. It’s not a thing that I test market like toothpaste or a new car. Music is personal and mysterious.


Being a “content provider” is prostitution work that devalues our art and doesn’t satisfy our spirits. Artistic expression has to be provocative. The problem with artists and the Internet: Once their art is reduced to content, they may never have the opportunity to retrieve their souls.


When you form your business for creative people, with creative people, come at us with some thought. Everybody’s process is different. And remember that it’s art. We’re not craftspeople.

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