Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
March 9, 2008

A Spirited Defense of an Utter Lack Of Skill...

by Chris Randall

In my normal Sunday morning trawl of the NYT (which differs from my daily trawl of the NYT inasmuch as I generally don't read the op-ed shit on a weekday) I came across this amusing piece. In it, the author describes his participation in the Really Terrible Orchestra. While the concept is reasonably sound (paypal me $1 for that pun, please) I find their intrinsic realism about the whole thing quite refreshing. The founder is quoted, in Classical Music magazine, as saying "[w]e also discovered there?s a place in the market for a really bad amateur orchestra. After all who wants to go to a concert by a good amateur orchestra when you can hear a professional orchestra?"

This brings to mind an interesting point. If there's one thing I can't stand, even a tiny bit, it's the incredibly earnest bar band. Bar bands are, by their very nature, amateur, and the people that play in them are never very relaxed because they don't get on stage enough to treat it like the workmanlike entertainment job that it is. Thus, it's an uncomfortable experience for both performers and audience. Now, if a bar band was named "We Fucking Suck" or something, ("slaughtering the classic rock hits since 1995!") I'd have a whole different opinion of the matter, and could actually revel in the parts they got right.

Note to aspiring bar-band performers: take a page from the Really Terrible Orchestra's songbook, and plainly wallow in the inherent humor of your position. It'll make things much more pleasant, and you might even actually get somewhere with it. After all, look at Ween.

March 7, 2008

Stylistic Schizophrenia Open Thread...

by Chris Randall

I'm going snowboarding today, largely because I can, so this is an open thread. The topic: as was mention often and vigorously in the previous thread (but one), I've made a reasonable career despite having the consistency of, well, nothing springs to mind. I've made single albums that had both big-band swing and 135 bpm 4-on-the-floor industrial stompers on them, and somehow managed to do it rather unironically, at least in my own head. When do you draw the line? Should you rein in your less reasonable creative impulses to suit your chosen genre? Or should you just let it all hang out, and fight the good fight, which is invariably a losing battle?

March 6, 2008

The Corner Of No And Where...

by Chris Randall

And I just wanna say "Big Up!" to our Melanesian Massive. Who is that one person from New Caledonia?

March 6, 2008

The Long(er) Tail...

by Chris Randall

darklordjames just turned me on to this article, which has apparently been making the rounds of the creative community today. (And with good reason.) Obviously, I have some thoughts about this, but first things first, go read the entire article, because there will be a test later. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Now, setting aside for the moment that this article has been quickly adopted by the BoingBoing set (a member of which, as you all know, I most certainly am not), and it does trend a little Disney, the concept is absolutely sound. Between when I was dropped from TVT and when I finally gave up on SMG, I made most of my living in exactly the manner described in that article, and can state from personal experience that it rings true. Mr. Kelly has, in fact, hit the nail on the head for the most part.

There are caveats to his plan, which he fails to mention. BoingBoingers and their ilk will fall all over themselves setting up tip jars and having a group hug, but getting those thousand people to pony up whenever you poop out a track is no easy task. The SMG fan base, which numbered in the several hundred thousands at one time, has rendered down after a decade of abuse on my part to about 800 people I can count on to put up with most anything I do, and another 3000 or so that will turn up eventually. Of those 800 people, I know at least 200 by sight, and am on a first name basis with almost all of them once I'm reminded of who they are. Elle knows them all and then some; she's better with names and faces than I am. She can even remember specific things about many, like what size shirt they wear, where they live, what they said to her the last time they saw her, and things like that.

I'm left with the nagging suspicion that I squandered a lot of "true fans" as Mr. Kelly states it, by either my musical schizophrenia or my short temper, and of course there's a certain amount of regret there. This brings me to the caveats in a roundabout way:

1: Master your craft. You can't suck to begin with. The article semi-implies that you have a right to these thousand people. In actual fact, you need to move heaven and earth to not suck.

2: Hold your tongue. I swear to christ I've gotten to the point (particularly on my last tour) where I was gonna gouge out the eyes of the next person that came up to me and said "dude, the first time I heard you was..." I mean, seriously. That kind of shit can put a motherfucker over the edge. Being humble in person when you're really not is a true art form that has to be practiced. You have to continually remind yourself that you're being paid to entertain, and being a complete prick isn't very entertaining. That is a lesson learned the hard way. (Truthfully, it may not seem like it, but I'm quite affable in person. Ask anyone. Except this one dude in Albany who got on my bad side. Or Lubbock. Or...)

3: Consistency counts. Your fans don't actually want you to experiment, I've found out. Or, at least, they think they don't. I acquired a reputation for abrupt left turns, musically, within the rather confining genre that was Industrial in the 90s. This annoyed many people. I lost roughly 90% of my fan base by deciding for about six months that I'd really rather be in War than Sister Machine Gun. If you're gonna subvert the Long Tail, you can't really pull that shit. If I stuck to ripping off Roli Mossimann productions I'd still have a vibrant career. I would have probably hung myself, too, but there's art in that as well, and that sort of thing never hurts your back catalog.

Long story short, TANSTAAFL as always. The "1000 True Fans" model is absolutely viable, but comes with baggage. Take it from someone that has lived it for two decades. It's hard out here for a pimp.

March 5, 2008

Some ponderings...

by Chris Randall

Can "pondering" be pluralized? Any grammar Nazis out there that want to correct me? Shit, I'm digressing before I've even started pondering.

Anyhow... The previous discussion came to mind because I have undertaken a rather extensive Spring Cleaning fiesta. I rented a U-Haul, and backed it up to my studio door, and basically threw away anything I haven't touched in more than, say, a year. This turned out to be quite a bit of shit, including a round dozen computers (which nicely documented the history of Apple), a whole fuckton of half-finished DIY projects of one form or another, and a bunch of other shit I didn't need.

I could have probably sold a fair portion of what I recycled on the 'bay, or just kept it, but that wasn't really the point. My thinking was that every time I go out to my studio to record, I end up dicking with something that hasn't anything to do with what I intended. On top of this, I could barely turn around in there for all the shit that was piled on top of other shit. I have a tendency to make sudden turns and stops when I see a sign pronouncing "Yard Sale," much to the dismay of my wife, and as a result, I've nickled and dimed myself in to a corner.

So, it was time to clear out. And that's that.

But... I seem to all the sudden find myself looking gift horses in the mouth. Someone just offered me, essentially free, a particular incredibly rare piece of kit I've been looking for forever. Now, I know that this thing will be fun for like 15 minutes, then it will sit there collecting dust. So I turned him down. Then I find something on eBay, with a BIN well within my target price, that I've also been looking for forever. Then, a store I buy a lot of gear at is having a monster sale. The list goes on.

Ultimately, my point is this: the gearlust, it can get away from you. Lord knows I have 10 times the shit I need to actually make the kinds of music I make. (In actual fact, for most of it, all I need is a computer, a single mic pre, and a convertor.) But I find myself eyeballing things I know I don't need, because if I only had that one other thing, it would all fall in to place. That's how a keyboardist ends up with 11 guitars.

Adam and I have an ongoing discussion that has lasted nigh on four years, wherein we have decided that there's people that collect gear, and people that use gear, and those people are generally not the same people. There ain't nothing wrong with that, but I am of the considered opinion that unless a particular form of music requires a particular piece of kit (e.g. 303 for acid house) then you can generally make do without all the fuss. This obviously goes entirely against the general drift of this website, but like I said, I've just been having some ponderings...


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