Jef Knight

Apr 172020

by Jef Knight

“Modern music sucks”. Is that what you think? You’re not alone. Many people believe that modern music is “objectively” bad.

Who are these people? Well, in the 1950s it was Christians. They fought tooth and nail to prevent modern music, the Devil’s music, from being played.

In the 1960s it was parents who grew up on big band, jazz and classical music. Or worse, WW2 era pop songs from Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. They all proclaimed loudly that modern music was the worst music ever written. Electric guitars and catterwalling. That’s all I ever heard from older people in the 60s.

In the 1970s these same people, older folks mostly, now accompanied by those who thought that 60s music was “the only good music” were decrying heavy metal, punk and prog rock as “not music”.

By the late 70s articles began to emerge whining about how music had no melody anymore, and that beats were becoming too simple and sterile.

Then modern music sucked because: disco. This was the first rallying cry of “beat boxes are not music”.

Then along came the 80s. Everyone from the 60s and 70s hated 80s music. “Synths and drum boxes ruined music” was their battle cry.

Then guitar rock made a short-lived comeback in the mid to late 80s and these same cats hated it because it was, “hair bands” or “cock rock”, but it was certainly “not music”.

Not to be overlooked were the nostalgists who hated the 80s music because “new country isn’t country”.

By the 90s these old timers, now in their 40s, hated grunge because they thought it sounded too unpolished and profane, somehow.

And let’s not overlook rap and hip-hop. I never met a white man who had anything good to say about that stuff. And the things they Did say can’t be repeated in polite society.

The next victim of progress was the humble CD. “CDs sound like crap” was heard in stereo stores across the land. “Vinyl rules!” was their anthem.

Then it was computers. “Modern music is sterile” is the most overused phrase of the current generation.

The common thread running through all of this is that it’s all bullshit.

Music is great, no matter which era it’s from.

I’m going to re-coin an old aphorism to properly express my sentiments on this topic: “If you hear a song in the morning that’s terrible, maybe it’s just a terrible song, but if you come home at night and all the music you heard all day is terrible, maybe it’s you that’s actually terrible”.

But wait, there’s more!

Let’s take a look at what the real problem is and see if we can determine a solution to your dislike of modern music.

There is a common myth among modern commentators that music today is sterile and “too perfect” (as if that’s even a thing). They see bands from history as being somehow magically wonderful because of all the imperfections in the recordings and their use of “real” instruments.

This is a made-to-fit-the-argument way of approaching the subject. Most bands were, indeed, not perfect, but the engineers of the day used a lot of tools to try and get them close to perfect so they could get the record completed within their allotted time and budget.

Back in the day audio engineers had, HAD, to come up with ways to stay within budget. If the band was paying out of pocket, almost inevitably, the day would come when they showed up at the studio and the guy tells them, “sorry, you’ve run out your budget” and the band would be, like, “but we’re not finished!” and the guy would have to tell them, “well, get more money then”.

If the studio time was funded by a record company then there was a producer and some suits from the label making sure the album came in on time and within budget. If not, the project got canned, shelved and the band usually languished in obscurity because, essentially, they sucked at making albums. There was no money, for most bands, to do unlimited numbers of takes or spend exhausting amounts of time doing drum tracks.

Audio engineers, producers and record labels all had a vested interest in having music in the can and out the door in the highest quality, shortest time, lowest budget possible. Perhaps the lawyers for the big acts could negotiate for more time or money, but for the vast majority of bands it was “get it right, quickly” or die.

It was to this end that audio tools for pitch correction and track editing were invented.

If you’ve ever looked at vintage photos of bands in the studio you may have noticed that they are often wearing headphones, especially the drummer. Some drummers even gaffer taped their headphones onto their heads so they wouldn’t fly off. What do you suppose they were listening to, Bach? No, they were listening to a metronome or click track.

It’s a common myth that bands from history had “great timing”. Sure, many musicians did have great timing, but it was far more common that drummers would speed up and slow down in ways that were incongruous with making a great record.

Because of this, recording drums became the running joke / consistent problem in the recording industry. Stories of having to take a month to record the drums are a staple of music history. It’s why, in many cases, ringers were used. These ringers were highly skilled professional drummers who would come in and replace the drum track on a recording, after hours and unbeknown to the band. It saved time and money and the record got finished on time and within budget and the recording was excellent.

This little trick was even used by many studios and producers to replace the entire band on recordings, mainly because the band was too drunk or stoned or bad at their craft to make a recording that didn’t suck. The Wrecking Crew famously did this on many of the greatest hits of the day. For instance, the Beach Boys were great live, but their greatest album, Pet Sounds, is mainly the Wrecking Crew. If you think autotune is cheating, what the hell do you say about this tactic?

Remember, it’s the music Business, not the musical mutual appreciation society.

Vocals were another source of hardship for engineers. Great performances ruined by a few pitchy notes. So, engineers, at the behest, and by behest I mean, “constant threat-based financial pressure from the suits who represented the record labels” had to figure out how to fix those problems. Often this was done by working at solutions all night long, after the band had left. Engineers crafted some of the cleverest solutions to the problem of vocal pitch correction.

These tools were essential to music recording because music is about emotion, feel and those other intangible properties that make a recording great. To that end, are you going to scrub a really great take because it’s pitchy? The singer might not ever be able to recreate that take and you can spend a week trying, but who’s going to pay for that? It’s far better to be able to tweak a great performance, than chasing some imaginary ideal of perfection.

The earliest story of pitch correction that I have found dates back to the early 1960s and stars Frank “I only do one take” Sinatra. As the story goes he was recording a song and despite his “only do one take” mantra, was on take 32 before he gave up and left the studio. The engineers were left with lots of material, but it was not Frank’s best work. So they devised a way to correct the pitch using multiple tape machines, manually working the capstan motor speed and “flying in” the new, pitch corrected, vocals. It worked. Once that little secret got out other engineers started experimenting with it.

I’m not going to go into the entire history of pitch correction, but by the late 1960 electronic engineers were working on, and producing, some early versions of time-based correction devices that become sought after studio gear, if you could afford it. The 1970s ushered in a new era of gear that could micro-tune vocals.

Most studios could not afford this exotic gear, and hence there are a lot of recordings with pitch and timing problems from that era. It’s not precious, endearing or magical that these bands were loosey-goosey. Everyone in the industry hated it and was trying really hard to invent tools to “fix” these bands so they sucked less.

If you move much beyond the 1960s you can noticeably hear that music became “tighter” and subjectively “better”. Bands used metronomes. They also “cheated”, as most modern artists do, by tracking the basic bed tracks of the song, then every individual went into the control room and sat with the engineer and re-tracked their parts to perfection.

This was so common it became a running joke. There are thousands of photos from history showing pretty much every major band re-tracking in the control room. How is that any different from today’s music that is layered track by track?

By the 1980s half the bands in the world were using drum boxes and synths for bass lines, the same as today, the only difference being that today we have “presets” for sounds and back then they had to dial in every sound they used. They had binders full of synth-sound recipes they carried around with them.

By late 80s, as reported in Modern Drummer magazine, which I read faithfully every month, articles were being written about how “real professional drummers” would sample their kit and bring a disc with samples to their studio sessions.

They had to do this because budgets were tightening from record labels and studio costs were at an all-time high. These drummers would show up and play either their own kit on which MIDI triggers were mounted, or a studio kit that was already equipped with triggers. They would play their parts, with a metronome, then use those MIDI tracks to trigger a sampler loaded with their own drum sounds. You never knew the difference.

Much of your favourite 80s music was done this way. It was exactly what audio engineers had being having wet dreams about for 2 decades. They now had a great drum performance, great sounds without spending a week getting a drum sound, and the ability to edit the drum track without an xacto knife.

Yes, an xacto knife. That was how music was edited since, forever. Don’t like the second chorus? Cut/splice the first chorus in and BAM!, song fixed. You can imagine how tedious and nerve wracking this was for those engineers.

Joe Satriani, in a guitar magazine interview for his Surfin’ With the Alien album said that his engineer, John Cuniberti, made extensive use of physical cutting to create that album, as well as Not of This Earth.

Frank Zappa would xacto out just one, thin, guitar solo track on a 2 inch tape and put it in another song. Now that’s dedication. It’s no wonder he became one of the first composers to use digital recording devices. They are simply labour saving tools.

Audio engineers demanded better ways to edit recordings. Computer programmers, who were also audio engineers and musicians, were working hard to come up with ways of digitising audio so it could be more editable.

The earliest form of digitising that was commercially available was the Sony PCM. Frank Zappa, famously, had the first and largest Sony PCM rig in North America in 1979. Rush was also an early adopter of digital recording.

I worked for a company in Toronto where I had the pleasure to meet some of the tech crew for Rush. They claimed that as early as Hemispheres Rockville Studio in Wales, where it was recorded, was using digital multi-tracks to import some of Alex Lifeson’s guitar parts and “fix some notes here and there”. Zappa used them for the very same reason, getting it exactly right without the need to do take after take or use a knife.

In the early 1990s, software for the personal computer was released that allowed engineers to fully track and mix recordings in the digital domain. There were two competing products Pro-Tools and PARIS. While the PARIS system, made by Ensoniq, was a far superior system, the company was more of a cutting-edge hobby shop and failed to create a market for themselves. Pro-Tools, on the other hand, became the industry standard simply because they gave away entire computer systems, rigged with their software and hardware, to many of the major studios. If they hadn’t done that, there’s a good chance it would not have become the “industry standard” (and, by the way, that’s not the recording industry saying that, it was the merely the Pro-Tools marketing slogan).

Back in the day Pro-Tools was hated, despised even, because it was hard to work and, for technical reasons such as low resolution, early version A/D, D/A converters and slow, low bandwidth hard drives, was only used as a tool of last resort. It was universally calls ALLSIHAD, because engineers only used if it was “All’s I Had”.

PARIS continued with a robust community of users until Ensoniq sold out to EMU, who sold out to Creative Labs, who eventually killed the system.

But by this time Cubase, Nuendo, Cakewalk/Sonar, Logic all were becoming software that was capable of handling the entire recording chain.

With these advances pressure was mounting from both the audio and video editing industries for computer hardware manufacturers to produce hard drives with higher RPMs and greater bandwidth and throughput. Computers as recording studios were becoming the norm.

And they were becoming affordable. A recording studio in 1980 that cost a million dollars could be had in 2000 for about a tenth of that. By 2010 that same million dollar studio could be had for 10-20 grand.

Home studio recording also became more affordable. Time was that if you wanted to record music you had to go to a very expensive studio. This was out of reach of all but a few, well funded, bands and songwriters. Advances in affordable electronics launched a home recording revolution that allowed musicians to record all their music effortlessly and affordably.

The home studio revolution started in full when Fostex and Tascam began producing open reel 8 and 16 track recorders and 4 track cassette recorders around 1980. Outboard effects became affordable by the mid 1980s, as did monitor speakers and other ancillary studio gear.

Electronics manufacturers saw a great market demand for better audio converters and signal processors with less noise and artifacting and greater frequency response. And with the entry into the market of the Alesis ADAT recorder, the age of modern music had fully arrived.

Along the way from the 60s to the 2000s audiences were slowly fed more and more music that was becoming less and less sloppy and pitchy. Their ears were becoming used to hearing well timed and correctly pitched performances. There was no turning back.

Now, in the age of “modern music” the biggest problem is the oldest problem: the next guy wanting to be as famous as the last guy.

Back in the day when record labels ruled the world you had to have an act and be at least a little dedicated to the business. The growing trend, since the 80s, has been that if you can record your own material you might be able to skip the record labels altogether and release music to your audience without the aid of the middle man.

With the advent of the internet this growing hoard of songwriters has increasingly built their own recording environments and released their own albums unaided by record labels. This has lead to an unprecedented glut of music and talent.

Nashville is all but dead, for this very reason.

Modern music isn’t sterile because of the tools. It isn’t actually sterile at all. Most major artists still use full-scale production facilities just as they always did. Even Billie Eilish, who’s marketing team pushes the myth that they recorded her album in her brother’s bedroom, leaves out the part about her being groomed for years by top tier management, record labels and major studios and engineers. So, not really a bedroom album, although that does make it sound like anyone can do it.

I think the sterility part comes from a specific difference in older vs newer music: the audio engineers.

A real audio engineer will make anything sound great. But in today’s market glut every guy with Logic on a Macbook thinks he’s an audio engineer. To that end, all these inexperienced, even if well intended, musicians don’t have the skills required to produce quality recordings that have that “certain something” required for great music. It’s not the magic chords or the lilting melodies or the “backbeat” of the rhythm, it’s the audio engineering.

Bands don’t make great records, audio engineers make great records.

Add to that the very real truth is that “songwriter” used to be an actual job tittle, and today still is when you are talking about top-level music.

Unfortunately, the market today is stuffed full of little girls singing country and folk songs about their trials and tribulations out of their unicorn diary and fashion-driven doofuses trying to reinvent Led Zeppelin riffs.

The problem with modern music isn’t the tools, or even how you use (or over use) them, it’s that in the past there were, maybe, 100 bands you could buy, and another thousand “in the bins” at the back of the store all lovingly created by top-shelf audio engineers. Now, there’s 80 million songs competing with each other on the internet, and growing by millions every year, produced by non-professionals who, for the most part, suck at it.

And I say that not out of malice or derision, but out of the Soundscan statistic that says that of those 80 million songs, more than 79 million have ZERO plays. Not even their mother listened to them.

So let’s stop blaming the tools and start a new project for a better music landscape.

If someone says, “I should learn to play an instrument.” tell them to just not bother. It’s too much work to be good at it and why do something you’ll be bad at. If you’re a music teacher, just stop. We already have too many musicians. And they all, mostly, are not great. But they think they are and they’re putting out albums. Albums of Modern Music. Music that, according to Rick Beato and many others, sucks.

Do you’re part to make music a great thing again. Discourage people from polluting the world with their poorly made music.

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Mar 182019

by Jef Knight

On Friday, March 15, 2019 a young Australian immigrant to New Zealand went to a local mosque and killed 50 people, injuring 50 more. A terrible, unthinkable tragedy. Yet a tragedy that is becoming all to well normalised into “just another mass shooting, albeit tragic” in our modern media landscape.

I opened my browser on Monday to read the news with my morning coffee and noticed a peculiar thing; firstly that the shooter had, unsurprisingly, written a manifesto explaining his motivations and that the media was, in lockstep, condemning the manifesto as “trolling”, “lies” and “a cry for attention” and demanding that no one, ever, read it, let alone commit the societal sin of sharing it with anyone.

When I read article after article on the topic of what not to read, especially if it is overtly condemning the reader as all-but-complicit for having done so, by virtue of giving the shooter attention, my propaganda radar goes off. In this case, given that these demands to suppress this information were coming from both the right and the left, I felt obligated to find out what was it about this document that required bipartisan guilt-shaming to keep us from seeing it.

So, naturally, I found the manifesto and read all 74 pages of it.

It was a quick read, and for the most part well written. For someone who claimed to have failing grades, no post-secondary education and be a general life-fuckup his writing did not reflect that background. Rather, it was lucid, clearly well thought out and with a college level vocabulary, which I found rather intriguing. His thesis, however, was far less intriguing.

As a bit of background to why I read this, I have been concerned that the world would end up being at this very place at which it has arrived ever since the election of Regan and Thatcher in 1981. The rise of the far right was but a dream in the minds of neocons and hard-right extremists back then, but was nonetheless a dream that they hoped to birth into fruition. Whether in neo-conservative publications like the National Review or The National Interest, or in privately published newsletters from the backpages of Agents of Fortune there was a definite undercurrent of, a foreshadowing of, the types of radical, right-wing thinking so prevalent in today’s marketplace of ideas. It is from this historic perspective that I say, matter-of-factly, that there isn’t anything in this “manifesto” that I haven’t read a thousand times before in right-wing “realistic analysis”. None of it is new material from these folks.

Candace Owens features prominantly as the shooter’s main ideological hero. The media immediately downplayed this as trolling, but I urge you to go and watch Ms Owens’ videos: she is a monster insisting that she is giving a realistic analysis of the situation. This is exactly my point. Those on the right Already believe the same things as this shooter while also denying that salient point.

The basic thrust of his argument is that non-Europeans are out-breeding Euro-descendants, that is to say, the White Race is losing ground demographically and will soon become extinct via non-whites out breeding them. Add to that the call to take up arms against anyone, anything, any person or company or nation, that stands in the way of White Dominance and you pretty much understand the shooter’s motivations.

He was not an incel. His argument never touched on him not being able to get laid or have relationships. I don’t know if he did have relationships with women, but it wasn’t mentioned in the manifesto, so I’m going to make the leap and say it was not a thing that was plaguing him. He wrote at length about what did plague him, but sex wasn’t one of those things.

He claimed, several times, that he was not doing it for attention or notoriety. His claim was that he would naturally get media notoriety soley based on his actions, but that would be a means to an end of forcing society to go in a direction he thought advantageous to his cause. In this regard he seems to be correct. He believed, or so he wrote, that taking away peoples’ guns would give armed militias the advantage. New Zealand is now considering disarming its population. While that probably won’t lead to an armed insurrection by far-right crazies, that bunch will still see this as a win.

The rest of his points are rants against immigration, diversity, the far-left, centrists, not-radical-enough conservatives, “milquetoast” Christianity and corporate takeover. Pretty stock-in-trade stuff for the far-right and others of the white supremacist rally set.

I ask you then, why does the media not want us to read that? Are they afraid it will further radicalise the average citizen-at-large? I doubt that, though that is one of their stated positions.

No, the reality is a much more banal evil; it reads like a speech at a Trump rally. Or a KKK rally. Or virtually anything coming from the American and Eupropean far-right. It reads like the Freudian subconscious of the Republican party, or like a transcript from cocktail conversations at a CPAC after party.

They don’t want you to read it because they don’t want you to say, “Hey, wait a minute…this is pretty mainstream stuff from the American media landscape.” They don’t want their well established useful idiot class to see their own beliefs reflected back to them from the words of that document. For that might give them, give their base, pause to reflect on why they and a mass murderer share similar, if not identical, views on immigrants. They might lose pawns in their power struggle for dominance and supremacy, should their base suddenly see through the anti-immigrant propaganda that flows so freely in today’s media landscape.

A small handful of very wealthy people who own and control all of the media you consume do not want you to associate the beliefs of a mass murderer with the beliefs that they propagandize you with every day. The Machiavellian machinations of the wealth class that pits human against human is a well structured, highly coordinated effort to keep us too busy hating each other to have any energy left to stop them from their theft of the wealth and resources of our planet.

I say: read it for yourself and let the reality of your world sink in. Let those line-after-line talking points the shooter makes remind you of Candice Owens, Shawn Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Fox TV in general, and most of all, the monstrous, hate-filled ideas that pass for policy from the Republican party and its glorious leader, Trump.

You can’t change the world by not understanding it.

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Mar 162018

I’m fascinated by the topic of drug use in the arts. You cannot separate the drugs from the art because without the drugs, in many cases, the art would not get done, or it wouldn’t be as “free from restraints”.

Booze, cocaine, speed, heroin as well as pharmaceuticals like Adderall and beta blockers, all are the fuel that drives the creative arts industry.

I’ve never done hard drugs myself. (Full disclosure: I’ve enjoyed some pot an a few occasions.) I’ve watched a number of friends use drugs to “get creative” but in the end it killed them and they were only, really, 1/10th as creative as they could have been because having a ton of great ideas and having a ton of finished works are not the same thing.

Many artist have said, both privately and publicly, that without their drug they “couldn’t do it”. That’s statistically true; most people are not creative and they’re full of anxieties. You give them some drugs and woah! they relax and the ideas come flooding in. I’ve always believed that there was a better way.

You have to also ask,”are drugs for artists like steroids for athletes?” I think that, yes, they are. Cheating really.

Cheating because, well, take speed or cocaine for example. Watch old footage of Tommy Shaw from Styx playing on that 12 string acoustic and just tossing it around while playing complex chord patterns. The drugs gave him “super-human” abilities. Abilities that are, really, a lie because without their magic powder those artist cannot perform the same way. You can see that in old videos too.

Look at guys like Jimmy Page. On drugs he was a god, now he can barely strum a chord. Others like Johnny Cash were fuelled by speed and whiskey, while being sold to the public as a wholesome country singer.

That’s why I believe that music made by drug users is false and leads to a shitty, selfish mindset in the public that says, “I don’t care if they fuck their lives up on drugs as long as ‘I’ get some good music to listen to!”. And that’s the very thing I have heard people say time and again, “…who cares about the drugs…the music is Great!”

A tragic downside to this is that it informs other up-and-coming musicians that they either must suffer from being not as good or fast or creative as the drug users or they should do drugs to compete; it’s the same quandary as athletes face vis-a-vis steroid use.

Having some music biz clown offer an artist cocaine is de rigure, that is to say, it’s pretty much a thing. A great line from, I think, (but could be wrong),  the movie about Judy Garland is, “I don’t care what’s wrong with you! Get those drugs into you and get the hell out there!” Regardless of what movie it’s from I have heard this said to musicians at real shows by real music industry people. No one should ever have to put up with that in their careers and we should not tolerate, let alone celebrate, drugs as a tool for art. Or worse, as a tool to enrich the music-management class.

We should not dismiss drug use in the arts just because we selfishly love the music. That concept is so lacking in human empathy and dignity that it reeks of a kind of black magic or voodoo, where spells are used to get others to do your bidding. No thinking, feeling person should accept it as the status quo.

When I hear music made by the drugs all I hear is the artist’s soul leaving their body through the doorway of the music. It’s a bargain with the devil. But more than that, when I hear someone doing something that they could not easily do without their magic substance putting a spell on them I know that it’s kinda fake. But it’s mostly just sad.

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Mar 152018

I see this argument a lot, “musicians put in a lot of effort making music and deserve to get paid for it. Music should not be free.”

The problem with this is that it refuses to see music as a business, but rather, it sees musicians as “entitled” to get paid. This is fundamentally wrong from a business perspective.

Music, like any other product that is offered to buyers in the marketplace, is also at the mercy of market forces. That is to say, it’s value is determined by those who have the money to buy it, and whether or not they choose to pay the price that is being suggested. If people are not willing to pay that price, then, it is said, “the bottom drops out of the market”. True with horse-draw carriages, true with music.

But unlike horse-draw carriages, dinning room suites, sticky buns etc, whose manufacturers do what they do specifically for the money they can earn, music makers are motivated by other reasons. I say this because music has Never been an “upwardly mobile” occupation. Other than the 1% who become actual “rock stars” musicians generally have never made that much money, compared to, say, a guy who’s a plumber, electrician, accountant or dentist. Those are Real Professions. They make Real Money. Music is, for the most part, not a real profession for the vast majority of people engaging in it as evinced by the constant whinging about there being no money. Not much of a professional career then, is it? More like wishful-thinking combined with tons of time, costs and effort leading to potentially fatal economic outcomes based on the Hope of success.

Hope is not a strategy.

Other professional careers generate money because they are essential services. Music is not an essential service, no matter what musicians egos tell them.

The biggest thing that musicians overlook is the lie they tell themselves about how important music is to society. It’s not important at all. According to Neilson/Soundscan greater than 80% of all people will NEVER purchase music. Ever. And only about half of those people will go to see a live performance. Ever. Many people will never attend more than 5 performances In There Lifetime. A solid 20% will never attend even one performance. Ever.

That’s just the reality of it. They listen to music on the radio in their cars or at work and that’s it. It’s just background noise. There’s a real, biological reason for this, but it’s too long and complex to get into here.

Music buyers have always been a niche market. That’s to be expected and predicted in what is called the Pareto Distribution. 80% of a thing is done by 20% of the people and it has a long tail that predicts that at the 50% of the participants mark the number of people who profit from their efforts will drop to zero. It’s just a true fact.

But musicians don’t want to believe that. They want to believe that “everyone loves music” and they then inject the flawed inference that “everyone who listens to music should be required to purchase music” and then it just goes down the slippery slope of bad logic to, “therefore all music should cost money or you shouldn’t get to hear it” (which I’ve read countless times in the music whing-o-sphere) and further down to the bottom of the barrel of fallacious thought that, “I’m a musician, therefore You Owe Me Money for my music”.

No one should get paid merely because they make music any more than any other maker of any other thing should get paid merely because they made something. It’s what you do with it in the marketplace that counts.

So, what to do to make money then?

Making money from youtube or any other internet display site? Nope. Won’t happen for the vast majority of participants. It’s a numbers game just like a “getting paid at the door” gig. You bring fans to, say, youtube, then you can get the Subscribers and hours of view required to meet the qualifications to get paid. Like a gig; no one comes, you don’t get paid.

People buying your CD? Nope. CDs are dead, unless you happen to have an existing fan-base of people, mostly older people statistically, who still listen to CDs.

So, digital downloads then? Probably not. Again, without the fan-base who the heck do you suppose will buy your stuff?

Okay, streaming! Right? Good luck with that. Like all things Internet, streaming, just like youtube or soundcloud or, well, the entire internet, really, is just advertising, promotion, PR. Traditionally, all other businesses pay BIG BUCKS for these things. But musicians somehow feel that they should be exempt from paying promotional cost associated with marketing their product. See the problem?

Musicians believe that they, and their music, are special and are entitled to, nay, Deserve! to get paid for their efforts. I always tell musicians who believe this to Sell Your Gear and get a real job because you clearly don’t understand how either music-as-a-commodity or business-in-general works and your delusions will only lead to a life of bitter envy, resentment and disappointment.

So, am I saying that musicians should not get paid ever for anything? No, of course not. Musicians should, and do, get paid all the time, though usually not much and never enough to recoup operating costs. My live guitar rig alone is worth around twenty grand. How many gigs do I have to do before I break even on that up-front cost and begin to turn a profit? Most musicians will tell you that the cost of hard-goods, tools and ancillary expenses of doing business are sunk costs and therefore a loss. This, of course, is a form of Gambler’s Fallacy where you count the winnings but don’t take into account the losses it took to get you there. Musicians, like gamblers, will pay a thousand dollars to get fifty bucks.

This is why even gigging is economically treacherous. Clubs and venues are only in it for the money: they are capitalists, not socialists. They have bills to pay and that can’t happen if they are paying musicians. Sports TV is much more cost effective.

If you want to gig you have to step up your game and play, what the AFofM traditionally designates as, Class-C or Class-B venues. Actual venues. You’ll need a real-world booking agency to accomplish this. You’re Wednesday night open-mic that hopefully leads to a Thursday night gig for a hundred bucks will only disappoint you and further stall your career. Sure they can be fun, but do them because you want to, not because you Have to.

All the money in the industry is made by people who are beating their brains out touring. Touring WHILE having a day job, I might add. My friend Troy worked at a music store during the day and toured Thursday through Sundays, and one solid week per month, while promoting their first TWO albums. BTW, they were well funded and signed to a real record label. Selling Fenders on Wednesday, playing to fifty thousand screaming fans in Brazil Saturday, selling Fenders again on Monday.

That’s the pure, economic reality of the music business.

And THAT is why I firmly believe that music should me made solely by people who love music so freekin’ much that they would make it anyway, regardless of whether they get paid or not. The rest of the poseurs, egotists and colicky wannabes should sell their gear and get out of the way. The marketplace doesn’t need to be more diluted with low-effort, low-talent offerings that diminishes the ability of real artists to display their work. This “talent” glut hurts us all, because it creates a buyers market, one where music is so ubiquitous and plentiful that it’s value drops to near-zero.

Just look at the 2017 Neilson/Soundscan stats. 96% of all the money in the biz is being made by less that 1% of the participants and, here’s the real kicker, of the 80 million, 80-frickin-million, songs on the internet, 79 million, 79-frickin-million of them have ZERO plays. That’s Zero as in “no one gives a fuck about your shitty music” Zero plays. Even your fucking Mom didn’t listen to it. Yet all of these hopefuls think that they “deserve” to get listened to and paid just for having shown up. Participation trophies all-around!

And THAT is why I, in my business model, give away my music for free.

Now, that’s not for everyone. But if I were a painter or sculptor, would I charge people to see my art? Don’t be daft. So why should I expect them to pay to hear my music? For record pressings and live shows, indeed!, no one should work for free, but to hear and enjoy the fruits of my creativity? I say, “Free the Music”.

Music is for the enlightenment and edification of all who enjoy it. It’s a cultural enhancement that beautifies the hearts and souls of those who hear it. Should people have to pay to be spiritually enlightened by music? Perhaps, if they feel they want to help support the efforts of the artist. But they are by no means obligated to. The world is made a better place by those who choose to ornament it with music regardless of it’s financial outcome.

This is what I do. This is what I believe. This is what I teach.

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Feb 162016

A friend of mine offered up a maxim the other day that I found kind of interesting. It stated that, “Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.”

At first blush it seemed a reasonable enough proposition. Art often makes people think about things differently and feel things they don’t ordinarily feel. That’s the essential effect.

But having given it some thought I realized that the term art is the wrong word in that aphorism. It’s not Art but Advertising that is the thing that actually fulfils this role in our media landscape. It is advertising that disturbs us out of our comfort and seeks to salve our burden. It could be argued that, for this reason, advertising is a form of psychological terrorism. Should art be equally as mercinary?

Advertising disturbs the comfortable in that it’s sole job is to make you feel bad about yourself so that the product the ad is hawking will be seen by your subconcious as the white knight of your imagined crisis. The disturbance it creates is for the sole purpose of selling you the blessed relief. For those that qualify as disturbed, ads offer the hope of healing via time saving gadgets, money saving scams and, of course, pharmaceutical fixes both real and imagined.

Art, however, should be none of these things and should not be used as a club with which to bash the viewer. If art’s goal is to disturb the comfortable then it can only do so by having “disturbing-the-viewer” as it’s agenda. Surely art should stir emotions in the viewer but one could argue that art with an “agenda-to-disturb” is just propaganda, purposefully seeking to make the viewer feel bad about themselves and is therefore ideologically self-serving.

If you were to anthropomorphize the art then it would be an empathyless villain who seeks to change your mind by force, the force of psychic pain upon the viewer who is left feeling worse than when they arrived. Is in not better that art should reveal the true beauty of the artist and let the viewers partake in that luxury?

Most decent people cannot tolerate the company of people like this, so why would anyone want to make “art” that fulfils this same intolerable function? Wanting to harsh peoples’ mellow seems, at best, shallow attention grabbing, at worst it stikes me more like a passive-aggressive proxy for bashing ones fellow man than it does artistic socio-edification. Such things in no way make the world a better place, which is what real art attempts to do. Right? Don’t the thing that you love, artistically, make you feel better in some way, to feel joy, possibility or catharsis? “I love that band because they make me feel bad.”, said no one ever.

As for the previously disturbed, ask your doctor if Art is right for you.

On the other hand, I firmly believe that art should be, and is, merely an extension of the artist. One lives the artistic life and art flows from that. It should have no more of a social or political agenda than a set of guitar strings does.

Art, true art, should reflect the beauty of the artist, their inner aspirations, their hopefulness, their sense of wonder and reflection. Beautiful minds make beautiful art. People are made better by either creating it or experiencing it.

So, one might ask, what does that say about the artist who create only things that reflect the comfortable gloom of a disturbed mind?

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Nov 012014

It’s been said that art is not a ‘thing’ it’s a way of life. Art is just the end result of that.

Some might ask at this juncture: “what way of life will lead to art?” but I think that this question is backwards and won’t lead to an artistic life. The real question, in my mind, is; “How can I enjoy the life I have so much that it produces art?”

But are there things, one might naturally ask, that are common to the lifestyle of other artists?

Well, yes and no. Living someone else’s life will not guarantee artistic results and may actually make you neurotic, as the quest no longer becomes the art but now becomes the emulation. What someone drinks, or doesn’t, how someone sleeps or doesn’t, foods, personal habits and routines are all just individual idiosyncrasies that we all have, the artist as well as the layman, and are not in and of themselves the kindling for the fire. However there are some things that most artists have in common, courage, a visionary imagination and more than anything, a desire for self-expression through creativity.

Creativity, if it’s to be an authentic representation of your innermost being, must be examined by separating it out into its constituent components. At its root is the word “create”. To be creative is to be creating. Previous to that there must necessarily be Imagination, something you can imagine that you can create and previous to that must first come Inspiration.

Inspiration – Imagination – Creativity.

You might see a lovely glass object in a store window and it touches something in you that sparks your imagination. Maybe it’s creating another, more evolved, glass object that you imagine or perhaps something in a different medium, even music. From that you feel the spark that the glass object triggered in your heart, in your mind, and you let that spark become what it will, become something more personal and connected your own, unique inner world.

This is the inspirational thing that sets the wheels is motion. From there you can take your inspiration in whatever direction you choose to achieve a strongly held imaginative object, an object that inspires you to take initiative in moving your inner life into the outer world in the form of a created thing be it a painting, a video or a song.

In the bigger picture I think there’s more to it than that, which goes even deeper.

Rosemond Harding in his book “An Anatomy of Inspiration” said, “Originality depends on new and striking combinations of ideas. It is obvious therefore that the more a man knows the greater scope he has for arriving at striking combinations. And not only the more he knows about his own subject but the more he knows beyond it of other subjects. It is a fact that has not yet been sufficiently stressed that those persons who have risen to eminence in arts, letters or sciences have frequently possessed considerable knowledge of subjects outside their own sphere of activity.”

I have always termed this stage, “Loading”; the more you know, do, experience, learn the more informed your mind is and the more intellectual art supplies you have at your disposal with which to generate and develop your inspirations into quality imagination-objects that drive your creative expression.

Another aspect of inspired imagination is the notion that when you decide you wish to create something the initial journey is one of discovery. A true artist is, by nature, a discoverer, an explorer, an adventurer that is cutting a new path or breaking a new trail into unknown territory in hopes to find an imaginative gem of great value. That value is often not monetary, but is always the seed, the soul of the artistic idea. It’s the reason why the artist is determined to create.

Part of this process involves a tenatious, methodical and analytical approach. An observation that always struck me was how others would treat their music in an “approximate” way, touching the subject of the song in a gentle, not-that-accurate way and how those others who lived the artistic life made music that was purposeful, verdant, thoughtful and, more importantly, reproducible for future enjoyment.

Having the tools to propel ideas in fruitful directions is essential. If you want to discover something new you must prepared for the adventure. Like trying to capture an elusive animal, you’re going to need a plan, and a cage.

This is the qualitative difference between the one-off meanderings that define the hobbyist and the adventurous yet deliberate improvisations into new musical discoveries of the artist-as-musician. When combined with the tools with which to capture and reproduce new musical discoveries the art of the musician takes on a whole new direction.

But to think like this, to do this as part of the artistic lifestyle means that one must, as the late, great William James put it, “choose purpose over profit.” This is the most difficult thing for any artist to do, but it’s the very thing that defines art and the artistic life more than any other quality.

When you place the need for artistic-expression over the need for money, that’s art. I’ve always said that it’s more important to write and record an album of music than it is to sell it, the noble drive to create things being more important than the banal drive to sell things. If you can accomplish both, kudos. But if you create and are satisfied with your work, that’s the heart and soul of the artist and the artistic life.

The reason I believe that this is true is that deep, unabashed self-expression is rare, valuable and life enhancing regardless of the financial outcome, whereas having sales as your stated end goal will, by the very nature of the marketplace, force you to either redefine your art as craft or to retool your art to conform to the fickle whims of the marketplace. Either way it stops being fully artistic self-expression and become the manufacture of mundane artifacts that in the marketplace must compete with low-wage craft from third-world counties and the voluminous kitsch clogging up the discount bin at Wallmart.

But it has a more sinister underlying quality: trying to please everyone, all the time. The true artistic lifestyle, as has been stated time and again by artists, authors and musicians, is one of doing what one believes in and not merely performing, like a trained monkey, for the generic passers-by of the world.

Art is not there to please people, it exists solely for the edification of the artist and those people who can relate to whatever statement the artist is making. For this reason, true art attracts it’s own following. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If the beholder fails to appreciate it, then so be it; move along – nothing for you here. Once one begins to realize that, indeed, water does find it’s own level, that birds of a feather really do flock together, then and only then will the imaginationist begin the journey to becoming the artist, for he now realizes that art finds its own audience, no matter how broad or limited that audience is. Therefore, more correctly, the audience is attracted to art it finds appealing and no one else will, or even should, care, including the artist. The art might be absolute crap to others, but to a certain group of people, your fans, it’s a thing of beauty and magic. Which is why the artist doesn’t fret that they have only a few fans. Better 10 true followers than a thousand mere well-wishers.

If you, as an artist, can find your soul and display it, warts and all, to the world it will only come from the belief that the life you live, your artistic lifestyle, is the incubator from which the art is born. From there you, your lifestyle, your art will attract those who feel the same thing, hold the same values and aesthetics and will, as a natural consequence, call for more creative output from you because you’ve touched them in a way that makes them feel like they are both special, unique and individual, and at the same time connected and in touch with the art and, by extension, the artist. They, in some measure, will see themselves in the art and become one with it at some subconscious level where it becomes a reflection of themselves and their deepest inner fantasies regarding who they believe themselves to be.

In the end, the art, the artist and the lifestyle all become one seamless, overarching work of art that unfolds to reveal that the artist ‘is’ the art.

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May 042014

Imagination is not Creativity

This infographic artist has mistaken the word “creative’ for the term “imaginative”. Also, it’s more of a list of narcissistic traits than a guide to creative behaviours.

Imaginative people have these problems because they live inside their heads and are usually a frustrated mess internally, but creative people are too busy actually ‘creating” stuff to be bogged down by such things. Indeed, it’s because they aren’t afflicted with most of this that they even ‘can’ successfully create things. Imagination is like internet social networking: it’s just self-absorbed pointlessness unless you can manifest it into the real world.

I know, literally, dozens of very successful, creative people. None of them get bored easily, because there’s always something to create that keeps them busy. People who are bored easily have no ideas, no goal to attend to and are generally not artistic in any meaningful way. Bored people are often depressed. Depressed people rarely create things. Until they get a manic upswing. That’s a different discussion.

Not all ‘risk’ is created equal. Doing dodgy things that are risky isn’t a requirement for creativity. But to be sure, creators take big risks. They take the risk of being hacked on by the judgey/critiquey class. Being original takes guts! That’s why so few do it. Most self-described artistic types, imaginationists mainly, are only looking for a quick fix of positive attention and are unwilling to develop any personal convictions that may stray from the rather sycophantic, mainstream goal of being liked by others. They don’t risk creating things that might not give them the external validation they seek that confirms their belief that they are, indeed, awesome. The courage to create in the face of potential judgement is awesome. Anything less is, well, less than awesome.

It’s often said that real creativity colours outside the lines. But, really, it only seems like they colour outside the lines. Again, this is what the judgey class says when something is not ‘normal’, because ‘colouring outside the lines’ is the way they say “not like us, but still acceptable by us”. Real artists do what they need to do to express their ideas regardless of the arbitrary lines drawn by the denizens of self-interest-ville. That’s why being original takes courage. Because the mediocres believe in limiting themselves and will always attempt to limit others. “Cutting the tops off of tall trees” is how it’s often put. So creating things always puts the artist at risk of the BS from this bunch. Real creative artists don’t know anything about these ‘lines’ which they are said to cross. Real creativity is as expansive as the whole world, not lived in a hallway which they sometimes stray out of.

Points 4,5,6 & 7 on the infographic; being overly emotional, incompetent, a miscreant and a loner, sound more like personality problems than the attributes of successful artists and are often entwined within the excuses they use to justify their lack of success. If you want to be ‘creative’ you might consider not nurturing these bad habits.

Every great artist that I know is emotional, but also highly studious and intelligent, knows the rules down cold so as to have a better understanding of how to contravene them and bend the rules to their will. Though they make mistakes, those mistakes are merely a nudge towards course correction, not an actual screw-up level of error. Conversely, imaginative-but-not-creative types all like to think that they are breaking the rules, but again, that’s just a behavioural problem. They don’t even know the rules and refuse to learn them, ‘cuz, f*ck rules! They also rarely, if ever, actually create anything meaningful, or at all because one of the rules they refuse to learn, which they freely break, is to get really good at something and use that skill to create actual things.

Working well alone is a must, though, unless you are heading a team of creative people working towards a creative objective. Top level creators always have a team of highly skilled people assisting them in manifesting their vision and will be comfortable cooperating in a team based effort. Though they may have started out working in isolation, it’s usually sociality and the ability to deal well with others that is the driving force behind their successes. This inability to work well with others is exactly why most bands suck and die.

When it comes the notion that creative people change their mind a lot, or are indecisive, that’s just not what I’ve seen in the real world. Sure there are decisions to be made and sometimes plans need to be course corrected because of unforeseen issues and obstacles, but that’s not the same as indecisive waffling. That’s what imagination-driven people do. They can’t hold a thought long enough to bring their vision to fruition without having it change into something else.

Which brings me to the darker side of the imagination; brain crack. Idea monkeys get their supply of positive reinforcement by imagining great things, which gives them a squirt of serotonin/dopamine/endorphins that has the same effect as drugs. It’s the biggest reason why they can’t move beyond imagination into creation: instant gratification. Creation takes a ton of effort, is often unpleasant and, while creating, often temporarily unfulfilling because creation takes, often, all your waking hours for long periods of time, depending on the scope of the project. No brain crack to be had until it’s done. Few can put up with the effort creativity takes. So they chose low-hanging fruit, easily achievable goals, and deceive themselves about their accomplishments in order validate and justify their self described creativity and public perception of their self projected awesomeness. Hence Facebook.

Artistic eccentricity has two flavours: People who aren’t really eccentric, but appear that way, or are judged to be that way, by outsiders/failurists/criticisers, and people who live to make others ‘think’ that they are, indeed, eccentric, for egotistical reasons. The first group, in which I include myself are “not weird for the sake of being weird, but for the sake of being themselves” regardless of what anyone thinks. This is where courage/risk comes into play. The second group invariably will, at some point, refer to themselves as ‘artsy’. Not actually an artist but fully intent to publicly self-define as a one, regardless of their artistic output. Doing a couple of pieces of art no more makes one an Artist than dancing at the local disco makes one a Dancer.

However, to Dream Big is the crux of the biscuit, but it leaves one thing out. To dream big often rolls out as just more brain-crack driven imagination and the dreamy-dreams of a lush fantasy life. “Can you put your hands in your head? Oh, no!” The narcissism of the lush inner world and it’s attendant, onanistic self appraisals notwithstanding, to dream big is the germinous at the core of creativity.

Those who create must dream big. I like to believe that if I, “aim for the eagle, and only bag a pheasant, I’ll never eat crow.” That’s been my motto since I first heard it when I was a kid. Dream big, bigger even, and make a great plan to achieve that result. (…and perhaps read the book, The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz).

Those around you who don’t live that way will try and squash your dreams. It’s makes them sad in their pants that you might be/get/have/do more/better things than them. To dream big takes guts. Takes courage. But to actually Do anything about your dreams takes greater than average amounts of both. And some really thick skin. But not so thick it turns into that brutal form of cynicism that insists upon itself like a cigarette burn.

People who attach themselves to artists, for their own personal/social benefit, are dime-a-dozen and will subtly attempt to make you conform to their idea of who/what you need to be to please ‘them’. Don’t fall for it. Those who support true self-realization and unrestricted creativity are rare. Finding people who support your work and cheer you on, especially if you create anything that is poignant, anti-establishment or anti-authoritarian, culturally re-inventive, uses destructive or decaying iconography, is irreligious or even sacrilegious is the single best thing that will ever happen to you as an artist. They will incalculably improve your life and your art. Better one person who “gets it” than a hundred who say they ‘get it’ only to give you a pat on the back for your effort while offering you their ‘constructive criticism’. They are not your friends.

Dream big, work alone or with a team to accomplish your vision, don’t ever believe in ‘lines’ that need to be coloured outside of, know the rules down cold and take them to the next level of contravention, let your heart guide your ideas but make your intellect guide your hands, do your best to get your inner vision, your imagination, into the real world regardless of what anyone else thinks about it or about you, have the courage of your convictions and the guts to risk being laughed at, judged, critiqued; risk failure or lack of results, but most of all be yourself for the sake of your own integrity and refuse to be something you’re not.

Be. Love. Do. Only then will your life and your art be one seamless definition of ‘you’.

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Feb 272014

Back in ’86, when I was 25, I was “the new guy” on lead guitar in a regionally popular country rock band called Buzz Woodcock & Bitter Whiskey.

Buzz was 24, a year younger than me, but he looked like a 40 year old Waylon Jennings and sang like Charlie Pride, was a hard drinking mofo, been married twice and was “that guy” that kicked the back windows out of a cop car to try and escape, hand cuffed, before spending his 3rd stretch in jail.

We were booked to play in a “resort” in the distant north of Ontario, Canada, a town called WahWah.

When we arrived the owner, a dumpy, beer-soaked Cree Indian with a hate on of musicians and white men came thumping up to the stage and handed Buzz a sheet of paper.

“Here’s the songs you’ll be playing tonight.” he gruffed.

We all just stood there wondering what just happened.

“We don’t know any of these songs.” Buzz told him.

“Well you best get t’ practicin’ then.” demanded the club owner.

Now, I need to mention here that this wasn’t the kind of resort that you’d think of staying at on vacation. It was a bar with 10 rooms above it in a town of 250, about 20 minutes drive from the Tree Line, as in “no more trees, only snow”.

So we all went up to the one room that they’d assigned us and began picking each others brains as to how these new songs might possibly go. We eventually figured out that these weren’t even song tittles, merely phrases from the songs that the owner imagined were the tittles. We figured out a couple and new a couple more. But that was it. We were cooked, so we though.

This is the point in the story where the band breaks open the cooler, cracks some beers and sandwiches and gets completely baked on the bag of weed the bass player brought.

9 o’clock that night we get up on the stage and commence to playin’ some good old country classics like Crystal Chandelier, but with beer bottle slide solos.

The first set was uneventful. On the break Buzz, as was his style, gots right friendly with the waitress who, unbeknownst to him, was the owners daughter. She was a nice looking gal, about 18 or so and seemed quite pleasant.

Second set time arrives and now the band is fully tuned up, by which I mean has had several beers and weed and starts the set with some ZZ Top, you know, to test the waters.

Well, if that wasn’t just the spark at the gas pump.

Apparently the only thing worse than uncompliant musicians and white folk was rock music.

A skinny, clearly irritated, fella that looked oddly like a drunk, Indian version of Jim Varney rushed the stage. Brad, our bass player, out of nowhere, swung the body of his black, Fender P-Bass and caught this guy under the chin sending him flying backwards into a table full of disgruntled locals, trashing the table and spilling lots of beer on everyone.

That’s when the wheels came off the cart. The whole room erupted in a chaos the likes of which are usually assigned to movies and legend.

We grabbed our instruments and managed to escape out the stage-side door. They seemed to be having their own kind of fun inside and didn’t even miss us.

About a half hour later the owner came up to our room, where we were hiding out like fugitives, and told us that we were not going to get paid and handed Buzz one of those little yellow and white diner guest checks with some stuff scrawled on it. Seems he was lookin’ to squeeze a few hundred bucks out of us for “damages”.

Buzz, a shrewd business guy, told him to hang on until morning and they would slip on over to the local bank and he’d take care of the damages. Buzz was unusually charming when he wanted to be. The bar owner agreed a left quietly.

This is where the band breaks open the cooler and cracks a few more beers, sandwiches and weed.

The room only had two beds and a cot. Buzz took a bed, Brad, the bass player and Dave, the drummer, were spoonin’ on a bed and I got the cot. Lucky me, really. Could have been spoonin’ with Buzz.

So, now it’s about 2 in the morning and there comes a little knock at the door. Buzz grumps out, “I’ll get it” while the rest of us try to remain unphased and keep sleeping.

Ya, well, donchaknow, it’s that cute, young waitress from the first set break. She and Buzz exchange some quiet words and then the door quietly closes and Buzz proceeds to bang the sweet-jeziz-liv’n-hell out of her while the rest of us pretend to try and sleep.


And I say it was awkward not because we were the unwitting audience to a live-action performance art show that was taking place in front of us, albeit in the dark, but still…geez…no, it was that this meat solo went on for almost 2 freakin’ hours.

It was at this moment I came to understand why Buzz had so many women in his life.

And they weren’t being very discreet about it either. All I could think was “I hope that bar owner, who’s daughter this is, lives down the road, ‘cuz if he lives here in the ‘resort’ I’m pretty sure he can hear all of this”.

And I was right. Just as the young lady was fixin’ to leave there came a knock at the door. It was a gruff, tired sounding older woman’s voice. The girl opened the door and she and her ma commenced to yellin at each other in whispered tones. So much heat with so little sound. I intuited that this couldn’t end well.

Brad and Dave are now standing in a shadowed corner, fully dressed and looking at me with that familiar, “come on, Knight, you’re the smart one of this bunch, what do we do next?” look in their eyes. I looked over at the window, second story, over looking our van in the parking lot and made a “go that-a-way?” gesture with my thumb. They both shook their heads ‘no’ in fear. I was about to shrug and point the thumb towards the door where the women were still hissing at each other when Buzz, ever the action hero, commanded in an “all hands on deck” voice, “come-on, Knight, we’re gettin’ the hell outta here.” whereupon we grabbed all our stuff and ran, literally, ran to the van.

As we bolted down the hall and out the fire escape door at the end I could hear and plainly see that the man shouting the foulest of obscenities and chasing us down the hall was also carrying a shotgun.

Fortunately for our sorry asses the van was pretty much right by the bottom of the rickety metal fire escape stairs. We piled into it with the efficiency and precision of a military unit and as Buzz proceeded to floor it outta there we could hear the report of shotgun fire and the ting-ting of pellets hitting the now speeding away van.

After a few minutes of white-knuckling it down the road, we all exhaled and laughed. The kind of cathartic laugh usually reserved for psych patients.

Then we cracked open the cooler, but this time we skipped the sandwiches.

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Aug 192013

During a discussion I had recently a friend of mine was giving his opinion, based solely on a single TV news blurb, to which he then added some Information Helper to fill out the story. Information Helper is the name I give to ones own imagination. It’s the most common type of thinking error that I come across in conversation.

Everybody does it, calling imagined ideas knowledge. They take a talking point, bullet point or soundbite and then use their imagination to pad it out into being what that person believes to be the whole story on whatever the topic is. The problem then becomes that I’m now conversing with someone who’s basis for their “knowledge” is their own imagination. Imaginings that have turned into strongly held beliefs and opinions forcefully put forth when the opportunity presents itself.

Imagination is Not Knowledge

But imagination feels like knowledge. Someone once asked, “What does it feel like to be wrong?”. The answer was, “It feel exactly like being right.” Because if your “knowledge” actually  *is* wrong but you believe that it is true and factual stuff, you’ll get a boost of positive brain chemicals associated with learning. You’ve learned something. Something that is factually incorrect. Imagination is not fact. But it pays out like a slot machine full of positive, highly addictive, chemical reinforcement for your brain. Like a built in crack dispenser.

Later on in the conversation with my friend I pointed out a fact, a very important fact, that he was unaware of. Not a heavy handed critique of his argument, but as part of the general give-and-take that makes for a robust conversation. Unfortunately the facts I presented, actual go-look’m-up facts, completely negated his premise. Without going into detail, I can say his premise was overtly racist against all things Middle Eastern.

Faced with my fact-based claim, rather than attempt to refute the claim directly, he merely said, “I don’t buy that for a minute. Look, Jef, *you* can’t  know everything.” I get that a lot when talking to people who use Information Helper rather than just doing their homework on the topics that interest them.

Imagination is Not Information

Information is data. Information is not knowledge. It is, however, the first step to acquiring knowledge. Research, study, doing ones homework on any given subject, are the only means by which you can gain quality information. Where do you start? Find the best and brightest, the textbooks and scholarly writings and read them. Develop a system of keeping track of which authors are credible, scholarly and non-corporate and which are propagandists and hacks. Use Michael Shermer’s “Bullshit Detector”. Understand and use the rules of logic, reason and argumentation and approach life and the claims of others using the Scientific Method. Do these things and you can’t go wrong. As a ancient philosopher once said, “One word to a wise man is sufficient, but a thousand words to a fool will fall on deaf ears.”

Use of the Rules of Logic

To say that “you can’t know everything” is true, but it’s also nonsensical rhetoric. Knowing a basic fact about something doesn’t mean you know everything, or anything really, beyond the supposed fact as asserted. Saying “you can’t know everything” is actually a  tactic to change the argument from the point that was made to the person making it. This qualifies it as a passive-aggressive version of that old chestnut of logical fallacies, the ad hominem attack. It implies that the person’s claim, as asserted, is not valid because there is something fundamentally wrong the person making the argument. They might as well have, more directly and honestly said, “You are *not* smarter than me, Mr Thinks-He-Knows-it-All !”. Or as Michael Swaim puts it, “Your argument is wrong and you are stupid”. At least that shows that if you can’t be right, you can at least powerfully attack your opponent into giving up. Ego crisis averted.

Beliefs Are Inexorably Linked to Happiness

As far back as the Old Testament days writers knew that there were two ways of approaching knowledge. “A fool thinks himself to be wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” A good observation, that. And also it’s the definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Truly intelligent, well educated people know that there is so much information about every detail of everything that it’s not humanly possible, even if you could live to be a thousand, to know everything. Yet that doesn’t stop intelligent people from pursuing education on the topics of interest to them. Rather, it inspires. It inspires me that, given my brief time here on Earth, I can pursue information and understanding of our world and it’s inhabitants with great vigour. I encourage everybody I converse with to devoutly pursue their educational goals. Because information leads to happiness. As the Bible correctly puts it, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Information leads to knowledge which leads to freedom from the shackle of error which leads to success which leads to happiness.

Freedom? Happiness? Really? Yes. One can only succeed, in life or in commerce, if the things one believes are factually true. Believing things that are false, or at best unproven, or “true for you” won’t cut it.

I know a woman who believes that ghosts communicate with her, angels assist her and that she can move the moon with her mind. None of this is true of course. She’s one of the least happy or successful people I’ve ever met. You might say she’s getting a failing grade in the school of life. And it’s sad. It’s even sadder that she has purposefully chosen her life’s path to be this one. The fatal flaw in her beliefs is that she is always right and not coincidentally, everyone else is wrong so, naturally, she disdains reading, science and education. She isn’t mentally ill; her unhappiness is a direct result of her low-quality beliefs.

To be successful in any endeavour one must be, or must be endeavouring to be, an A student in the school of life. You can only achieve this by acting on what you believe to be true and those beliefs must be based upon a solid foundation of factual, evidence based information. Wrong, bad and incorrect information cannot possibly lead to success. “A bad tree cannot bear good fruit”, so the saying goes.

Television is Not Truth, But it IS Education

Television has turned all of the greatest ideas about truth upside down. Television hates and disparages any education or information that doesn’t come from the producers of television programming and the talking heads that represent them.

All television content is created by, and wholly owned and controlled by, corporations that are collectively part of what has been termed the Military Industrial Complex. This is the Pentagon, US Gov’t, Oil companies, Mineral and mining companies, reconstruction companies, 3rd party support services such as food, transportation, laundry, medical and communications companies, insurance companies, automobile manufacturers, NASA, weapons manufacturers, security state infrastructure manufacturers, security consultants, video and movie production companies that are on the payroll of the Pentagon, private security firms, private mercenary armies, entertainment and broadcast corporations, think tanks, astroturfed grass roots movements and assorted people in high positions who stand to profit heavily from war and the security state or who merely need to manipulate your beliefs and opinions for the profitable and political reasons of power and control.

Television is the tool of mass propaganda and outright lies that is owned and controlled by this military/security industry. It’s a weapon they use to control the desires, tastes, voting decisions and general opinions of the masses.

Worst of all it teaches you to use the deceptive language of television. Your new vocabulary and talking points that will make you sound just as knowledgeable as the Really Smart People on TV. Now you’re smart too. Thanks Mr Syme.

So, What Can I Do To Avoid Being a Televictim?

Rather than passively watching TV, actively observe it in action and you’ll soon realize that television is always Pro-War. Television is always Pro-Elitist, Pro-Oligarch, Pro-Wealth and overwhelmingly Anti-Poor-People, Anti-Citizen’s Rights,  Anti-Union and Anti-Education. Television tells us that all money should flow in one direction only; from the poor, who don’t deserve it to the wealthy who do. Television portrays the wealthy as the saviours of humanity and the poor as criminals, drug addicts and lazy louts out to steal the hard earned wealth of the ruling class.

There is no Liberal Bias on television, only people who claim that there is. Television is, by it’s very nature and ownership, highly Conservative, Status-Quo, and Extremist in it’s view points, without fail. It demonizes intellectuals, educated thinkers and commentators, and promotes the points of view of known criminals, felons, ex-jail birds, war criminals, corporate profiteers and ideological menace-to-society types.

You don’t have to believe me on this. As with any claim I make, do your own homework and, if you look up the credentials and background of those whose opinions are the go-to opinions of mainstream media, you will discover that none of these observations are polemical or unjustified; merely an accurate observation of what your television promotes.

How The TV Virus Spreads

Usually, at this point, the avid televictim will retort, “I only watch educational channels like Discovery, The Learning Channel and National Geographic.” Though I would never say it, I often think to myself,  “Really? Which shows on these channels do you like best, Honey BooBoo, Monster Garage, Storage Wars or that one with the drunk monkeys?” These channels are the worst form of stupid. They work on the premise, “Make a man actually think and he’ll hate you; make a man think he’s thinking and he’ll love you.”

These so-called educational networks work their evil in a subtler, more insidious, way. But ultimately use the same exact tactic as a mainstream current events opinion show. That is, they give you 4 or 5 talking points, virtually meaningless factoid  bullet points, that are specifically crafted by professional psychologists to cause your passively absorbing brain to learn them, then pad those points out with opinion. Then tell you that only you can decide what’s true and let your imagination go to work. This is a common theme/tactic you’ll see time and again. “Did Nostrodamus predict 911? You decide.” It’s the nature of how your brain, at it’s most fundamental level, works. They actively stimulate your learning-reward system, you passively absorb the information, they tell you that it’s all your idea, you feel smarter because you actively decided either to believe or not to believe their claims and then, either way,  you reap the rich biochemical rewards that make you “addicted” to your television. Literally. Symbiosis at its finest.

What then happens is that the viewer, having learned and internalized the talking points, parrots them to others and adds their own special brand of Information Helper, usually a goulash of other things they’ve seen on TV combined with a dash of low IQ, a generous helping of lack of education and research on the topic, and of course sexism, racism, nationalism and bland tribal xenophobia. An undigestable casserole of ignorance, to say the least. This has the effect, within the brain of the person pontificating on the talking points topic, of squirting out even more blasts of biochemicals as a reward for being “smart”, reinforcing their own sense of correctness. Remember, when you think you are right, even when you are not, being stupid feels exactly like being smart. Armed with the latest well crafted talking point propaganda you’ll be all set to get a full days supply of attention and brain crack.

My Journey of Escape

I was lucky enough to have read Chomsky, McLuhan, Kurtz and others when I was in high school in the 1970s. From then on I didn’t watch television, only observed it doing its insidious thing and studying how it was being utilized as a weapon of mass propaganda. This connected perfectly with my studies in psychology and marketing to help form a Big Picture view of how governments and corporations implement social control.

You can’t know everything, it’s true, but you can at least know enough not to get your “knowledge” from television.

But it’s not like I don’t own a video appliance, I do, mostly used  for watching rented movies, which often aren’t much better than TV shows, though I don’t give up much of my precious life to watching movies either. Life is too short and there’s are too many songs yet to be written.

In 2004 I finally did what I’d been wanting to do for years; get rid of all incoming television broadcast signals. The rest of the household was onboard with the plan and encouraged my anti-broadcast-television initiative. So I chopped down the antenna mast, unsightly thing that it was and that was that for that. A beautiful garden is now situated on the site of the old television mast.

So, though you cannot know everything, you can study, use the rules of Logic, Reason and Argumentation and the Scientific Method to better yourself and improve your life.

My lifetime of study and the diligent application of what I’ve learned has made me and my loved ones successful and happy. I am free. Free from ignorance and the alleged blissfullness that is said to accompany it. You can be, too.

The truth is out there and it will surely make you free, but it’s not on TV.

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Jun 252013

Scientists often complain that non-science people use the word “theory” incorrectly. In science a theory is something that is backed by so much evidence that it perfectly describes and predicts something. It’s a variation of a Law. The theory of evolution is equivalent to the law of gravity. To the general public a “theory” means “something I imagine to be true”; exactly the opposite of it’s actual meaning.

There is a similar misunderstanding in the arts. People, both inside and outside the field, refer to ideas as “creativity”.

Imagination is not creativity, it’s just imagination. We all have it, artist and layman alike. But creativity has, at it’s root, the word “create”. To actually create something is to be creative. Not to be involved in actually creating things is not to be using your creativity.

In the study of creativity I believe there needs to be a more well stated taxonomy of production that allows for a description of all the steps in the process. The raw chain of events could be described as:

Loading – Imagining – Editing – Creation

Loading is the effort it takes any imaginative person to achieve a high functioning imagination. It’s going to include things like reading books, watching movies or TV, going to new places or having new experiences, meeting people and having relationships of various quality. These things all serve to fill your mind with new ideas.

Without the raw material that comes from external input imagination becomes limited and often mystical or disconnected from reality. Knowledge and experience gives the imagineer lots of raw material with which imagine art-objects that will speak to others in real world ways. A book might have a moral or give an emotion that leads to a touching lyric. Or it might be a book about writing lyrics or music and it just changes the way you approach the subject of the creative process altogether.

The next stage is where your imagination is put to work in the service of imagining a compelling idea for an art-object. This is the phase where you decide what it is that you wish to create. A song, lyric, playing style or even “how to get the kids to eat vegetables”. Sometimes, with the proper loading, an idea will come, seemingly, “out of the blue” and you will suddenly have an all-but-finished art-object idea. This often is accompanied by a squirt of positive brain chemicals and an overarching emotion. That’s when you know you’ve really rung the bell and come up with an idea you can really believe in. The best art-objects are emotionally driven. But that emotion doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from the loading of life experience combined with knowledge that help explain to the imagineer what it all means. Much of this happens subconsciously, but often it comes from having thought about it. Those who notice their own imagination working will notice that things that come from out of the blue are often answers to some question that the artist has been pondering such as, “why do I feel this way?”, “why did this happen?”, “how can I describe the awesomeness I feel?” or “where did I put my keys?”

Sometimes imaginative ideas take a bit of effort. People who work every day in the creativity industry can’t afford to rely on some magical inspiration to strike them out of the blue. They are often on a deadline and have to create something NOW! and it has to be high quality and be appropriate in whatever context that art-object will be offered, whether a movie cue or desert topping. In context, movie cues make lousie desert toppings. At this level of imagineering you can see the need for extensive pre-loading of knowledge and experience. High quality creations come from, generally speaking, people who have spent a considerable amount of time studying and experiencing a wide array of different things. There are many books available on the topic of how to get more ideas and I encourage you to look into it.

There are many techniques to prime the pump, the standard being; “think long and hard on the subject then stop, relax and forget about it and the solution will emerge as if from out of the blue over the next little while.” This one works well because most people do think long and hard about the solutions to their problems or for the road maps to their goals. They just don’t often realize that they are actually attempting to use imagination to achieve the result they are after. Those results could be anything from, “how can I have this 7/4 section pleasingly change into this 11/8 section of the musical piece?” to “how can I eat differently and still enjoy eating?” . Both require some imaginative effort to make them happen with a pleasing outcome.

In giving your desired outcome the consideration it requires it’s usually a good idea to write down or record every idea that comes to mind. Every one, without editing, judging or being critical of any of them. This will stimulate your imagination to look down new avenues of thought and has the added bonus of giving you excess material that you can possibly use in another project.

But, taken to the extreme, imagination can have a dark side: enter, the “idea hamster”. We’ve all met someone like this. A thousand ideas but none of them ever gets finished. Some call this “brain crack” because idea hamsters are clearly more interested in the little squirts of endorphins and dopamine, and the resulting emotional boost that accompanies successful brain transactions, than in the work it takes to actually follow through and create something. They are often good folks and well intended, but can be surprisingly ineffective on a team that requires actual accomplishments. In the music world they are the ones that write 20 songs a week but are so busy writing new ones that none of them get edited, recorded or performed beyond the moment of creation.

For the truly creative person there must be something they are actually intent on creating and emotionally driven to create. To this end the creative person needs some idea that has been thought out, but more than that, some idea that’s been run through the rigours of editing so as to refine the idea and polish out the quirky or unworkable bits so that upon execution it will yield a result, an art-object, that is exactly as the artist intended.

It’s been said that “great songs are not written, they’re re-written”, meaning that though the first draft, which is the main heart and soul of the art-object given directly from the artist’s muse, is the foundation on which to build the piece, it’s not always the best version that will completely capture the emotion and vividness in the art-appreciators heart and mind that the artist requires it to. The re-writing, the Editing Phase, is where the raw ideas take shape and become the thing that the artist is seeking to express to us. A change of wording here or a new chord there or raspberry sesame dressing rather than balsamic vinegarette. It’s all in the editing stage that these little nudges towards perfection occur.

But don’t be a slave to the edit. The hardest thing for an artist to do is know when the piece is finished. I believe it’s this one thing that separates the pros from the rest: they know when to stop editing the piece and begin the next phase, creation.

Creativity, to be creative is to actually create something in the real world, outside of the imagination. Whether a sculpture or play, a song or delicious meal for it to qualify as a creative act it must be created, ex-utero, and birthed into the lives of those for whom in was intended.

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