The Perils Of Living Your Ultimate Fantasy

What I’m about to go into is the first truly personal post I’ve made in a long time, if ever. I normally keep stuff like this to myself, for good reason, but this has been building for some time. I feel like it has long ago changed the way I make decisions with my career, and because of that, I feel like I owe my fans and supporters some form of explanation. At best, perhaps this will give some insight to new artists of what they may encounter in the future.

I also want to state how immensely grateful I am for many aspects of my life. I truly came from the bottom and ended up on top. What was once a guitar and amplifier in one of the worst neighborhoods in America is now a 1,500 sq ft studio with 4 acres of forest out the window. I make most of my income from music sales, which had been a dream that I thought was unobtainable even in my most optimistic fantasies. I worked extremely hard for it, so while I don’t consider it “luck” by any stretch of the imagination, I do realize that a lot of people work hard for something and end up regretting it. So, for this upward transformation over the decades, I am forever grateful and blessed.

In the back of my head, I always have this thought: If I, for some reason, won a Grammy award for my most recent album, what would I say in my acceptance speech?
I’d probably be proper and thank whoever came into my head first. But really, I’d want to thank my fans, then say “fuck you” to a long list of people and companies. Fuck you to Beatport for selling people’s illegal remixes of my music after declining to carry my actual albums. Fuck you to Tunecore for making me explain how audio compression works to 12 different customer support people who insisted that iTunes is a better audio ripper than Exact Audio Copy and subsequently delaying a digital release for 3 weeks. Fuck you to the person who leaked the album and forced me to ship the CDs early. Fuck you to the warehouse that took 7 days to open the CD boxes and put them in your inventory, preventing me from opening pre-orders. Fuck you to the venues who can’t respond to my emails, and fuck you to the booking agents who can’t simply spent 30 seconds researching my demographic before disregarding me.

Okay, so you see where I’m going with this. At some point it became apparent that with very few exceptions, in the world of releasing “The Flashbulb”,  I have to fight tooth and nail with every single person and service that I do business with. I fight to give away money. With nearly every interaction, I’m imagining myself strangling someone so they’ll take a giant wad of cash to do the job that they’re supposed to do. The job that uses musicians to keep their family fed. It’s as if there’s this invisible line between successful artists and groveling, starving artists, and because of my choices to be smart with my income and release my music on my own terms (via Alphabasic), I’ve somehow ended up on the latter side of that line. This, over the years, has changed me.

I can’t really put into words how much frustration and negativity comes with that. The “business side” is nearly a full time job that is farther away from being an “artist” than it would be if I became a car salesman. It used to be exciting to release albums, now at best it’s exhausting, at worst it’s simply degrading. But it’s all worth it because all of this fighting is so I can keep creative control over “The Flashbulb”. A record label would have forced me to put vocals over all of my music and then licensed it to a Viagra ad. They would have cut songs and released something in 2015 that I wrote in 2011. They would have sued people for sharing my music. I don’t think I could ever deal with that. “The Flashbulb” is my soul. It is essentially the exclusive way I express myself. I could never just hand the keys to someone else and relax while they drove it wherever they wanted to.

So all this fighting has been worth it. It’s a trade-off for creative freedom, and just as importantly, the freedom to release music however and whenever I want.

…well, that part has been getting increasingly convoluted, unfortunately.

Something happened recently that’s been a huge blow to me. I know it shouldn’t be, and I should have a stronger spine and be able to laugh things off. Let’s go back 5 years.

In 2009, I had a particularly rough year. I was dealing with both the suicide of a close friend and the death of an immediate family member, and at some point the suppression of my feelings gave way to anxiety and depression. For about a year I couldn’t bring myself to get professional help, and subsequently bounced between self-medicating and expressing myself in music I never intended to release. Most of that music is still unreleased and unheard, but a few things crept out. “Louisiana Mourning” being the obvious short compilation of pieces relating to this period, with tracks “We Are Alone In A City” and “Skeletons” being the others. “We Are Alone In A City” was initially 10 minutes long and had vocals, and I probably cut the track up 10 times before including it on a release. I was constantly on the fence about sharing it with the world. To me, it symbolized this moment where, in my own mind, I had nothing in my life but ghosts to hang on to, and I knew to everyone else, it would merely be something to help pass the time while riding the bus or doing homework. Releasing music that comes from those places is an incredibly insecure, naked experience. If someone criticizes the song, to them, they’re just sharing their opinion about music. To you, they’re criticizing your soul. There’s no way you can naturally come to terms with that arrangement. But the job of a “successful” musician is to suck it up and be humble. You can’t expect everyone to understand the novel-sized, epic saga that is behind certain pieces of music, much less respect it.

So let’s fast-forward to 2015. I’m almost getting comfortable with the aforementioned “fight” that accompanies every music release, and once again, I’m getting naked in front of the world by releasing a solo piano album. I have no idea if I’m a good piano composer. If I was laughed at by even the most uneducated music listener, or if I was praised by people with doctorates in composition, neither would be a big surprise. I’m completely cut off in my own world when I’m writing, and while that has its caveats, it locks out influences that aren’t coming naturally. Once I start trying to appeal to someone else’s standards, the quality of my work starts plummeting. It’s always been that way, and I believe it always will be.

The piano album’s release was, frankly, a disaster. Since my music writing is a mix between music theory and some alien language I invented to help me remember specific ideas, I had hired a transcriber and pianist to transcribe the album into a music book that other pianists could use. It was meant to be included with a special edition of the pre-orders. Well, the transcriber took my down payment and stopped responding to emails, and the whole thing is still dwindling in a Paypal dispute that I honestly no longer even care about. The album’s announcement came premature from a 3rd party, the CDs arrived late, the manufacturer screwed up the bleeds on the artwork,  the warehouse didn’t properly handle inventory, the t-shirt order got screwed up, iTunes rejected the album because I marked it as classical, which then prompted Tunecore to throw it back into limbo, which was then accompanied by a bunch of site bugs preventing the album from being anywhere other than Alphabasic and Bandcamp for nearly a month. Oh, and it leaked, meaning I had to ship everything prematurely. It was by far the biggest shit show I’ve dealt with in terms of releasing an album. Every single thing that could go wrong did.

More and more, over the last few years, I feel like I’m losing control over my own music. Even though I’m doing it myself and constantly multitasking through various battles, it’s still all too often being swept into someone else’s terms of service. Someone else’s time frame. Someone else’s release schedule. I now find myself nearly dreading the actual task of releasing music as “The Flashbulb”.

Then, something that would normally be utterly hilarious happened to me. But it happened at the wrong time, with the wrong song, and the wrong idiot behind it all. Due to 2 days worth of DMCAing’, you can’t see exactly what I saw, but this is the relic of it: http://sfvibebeats.com/products/emotional-drake-style-instrumental

And if you want to hear one of the outcomes (most of the many Youtube links are DMCA’d): https://soundcloud.com/onceuponme/drink-like-its-your-birthday-emotional-drake-style-instrumental
(Please don’t leave this guy mean comments, he bought the instrumental from SF Vibe Beats under the misconception that it was an original creation)

So, to sum this up briefly, “SF Vibe Beats” was illegally licensing “We Are Alone In A City” with a drum loop over it in exchange for money via his Shopify store to everyone from rap artists to marketing campaigns. This guy sold it to over 30 people that used it and released the songs. One of the music videos using this “beat” had more views than my top video of all time (Undiscovered Colors). Try to imagine the weight of this. A stolen song of mine with a drum loop plastered on top earned more success on Youtube than a timelapse video I spent a week in a desert shooting to a song that I had written/recorded an entire orchestra for.

I know, I know. “Lawyer up!”  “Bury this douche!”
And I probably will. This is far from the first time something like this has happened, and that’s kind of the point I’m trying to make. 20 years ago, I sat in my bedroom programming music on a tiny 2-line LCD screen of a synth workstation for, literally, 3 days straight. It was so pure and beautiful. Every track I finished energized the next. I long for that feeling again.

Now? I wake up and alternate between emailing venues, lawyers, music distribution sites, and writing music. I have the knowledge that anything I release can, and probably will be exploited to its fullest potential without my permission. And frankly, while I’ll never imprison myself with a rash decision about the future, I have a huge library of music that I’ll never release because it’s the best, deepest, and most coveted thing I can produce. That’s not to say my recent releases are lacking effort, I don’t believe they are. I think they have their place. But I don’t have it in me to “fight” over my soul, if that analogy makes any sense in reference to what I’ve said here.

I don’t know what this means. But if I’m to continue with “The Flashbulb”, I definitely need to completely restructure not only the way I release things, but my mindset in regards to releasing music to the public. It should be healthy for everyone. The reception of my releases should inspire me to keep writing, and if it comes down to choosing between purely and naturally writing music or releasing music with a bunch of baggage attached, I think everyone can agree which one of those options would be the right choice.

Before I press “publish”, I want to again emphasize my gratefulness for being able to feed myself by writing music. More importantly, I want to thank my supporters. All of this “fighting” is so I can get my music to your ears in a fair, efficient, and affordable manner. I owe it to my fans to find a better way of doing that.

The Big Music Usage FAQ

A couple years ago, I made a cheat sheet showing what I allow, encourage, and disallow in terms of using or licensing my music. Needless to say, things have gotten a bit more complicated. We receive an average of 3 usage requests per day, and I’m going to try and cover the most common questions with a brief explanation. If you don’t care about music usage, here’s a documentary about deer that will probably be a more entertaining way to spend your time.

The 4 Commandments Of Music Usage*
*For Benn Jordan/The Flashbulb

1. Thou shalt not use my music for a commercial and/or to promote a product or service that is for sale without permission. This includes all possible variations of this, including footage of a Budweiser sponsored dance party where the DJ is playing my music. If you want my music to be connected to marketing, you need to get a license.

2. Thou shalt not use my music for anything that is for sale without permission. This includes but is not limited to compilation CDs, compilation iTunes mixes, remixes, DVDs, digital rentals, subscription services (Netflix, Spotify, etc) and movie tickets.

3. Thou shalt not use my music for anything broadcasting on television or radio without my permission. Simple enough, right?

4. Thou shalt not use my music on a major project without my permission. In other words, if you have 300,000 Youtube subscribers, run it by us first.

I realize this might seem stingy to a person who has never sought to obtain permission for music usage before and is just trying to get to the finish line of a project, but I promise you, my “commandments” are very liberal in comparison to most musicians/labels/publishers and are basically allowing free use as long as you’re not making money off of it.

I remixed your song, why can’t I release it?

I’m honored when people release or cover my music, and on many occasion I’ve sought out artists to do it. The problem isn’t my personal feelings, it is the clusterfuck your remix will cause when the audioprint matches my music on digital stores and streaming services. For example, one particular asshole put some extra sound effects over Undiscovered Colors and released it as his own. The audioprint systems somehow removed my track from the rankings, and some services even threatened to remove my entire catalog for copyright infringement. Other services refused to honor the DMCA take downs since they simply didn’t have the time to actually look into the issue. Needless to say, this cost me thousands in legal fees just to be able to continue selling my own album. Down the line it caught up to him, and both him and his digital distributor ended up having to foot those legal fees, as well as their own.

Now, I’m dealing with the same issue with someone releasing a track of mine that they sang over.

But moral of the story, thank you for remixing my music, but please do not release it without working something out with me or Alphabasic.

Your cheat sheet said I could use your music on Youtube, and now I can’t monetize my video!

My cheat sheet does say that, but it also said that you can’t make a profit from my music without a license. I didn’t make up that rule because I’m greedy. It’s because the agreement reached between the publishing company that keeps track of my Youtube royalties and Google decided to suspend monetization on videos using unlicensed music. There’s a lot of red tape, and I have very little control over the process after my music goes into the system. Some people have asked me to “whitelist” their channel. I’ve searched and asked if this is possible, and it currently is not. However,  you can get a license from us, show it to Youtube, and they’ll clear it all up.


Can I get a free license for Youtube monetization then?

No. You can get a cheap license. I’m usually making nothing off of it, it’s just that preparing a legal document costs money. In all humble honesty, even if I had a law degree to oversee all types of license agreements, if I were to prepare licenses for everyone who asked for a free one, it would literally be a full time job. I’d rather be a musician, not an IP attorney who works for free to ensure that he doesn’t get paid for his previous work. =)

I want to monetize a Youtube video of your music with the video being a still image of your album art or a photograph. Is that okay?

While I won’t go out of my way to have the video flagged or removed, there are very few cases where I’m okay with this, such as the content provider being the press or a well-known music blog. I wholeheartedly appreciate people sharing my music, but there is a growing culture of people who upload songs they like, monetize the videos, and collect the royalties. While it’s not on my list of priorities to interfere with that business, please understand the audacity of asking me to provide you with a free license so Youtube is prevented from giving me royalties on my own music. It would be more noble to just ask me to give you $100.

Why are you asking for so much money for using your song in my commercial? Library music I looked at was $100. It’s free money!

It’s not free money, it’s the value of my work which is determined by hundreds of thousands of dollars and work hours I’ve put into my career and studio. If you found something that works in a royalty-free music library, you should absolutely use that instead of obtaining a license from released material. My music isn’t library music the same way that a painter’s work isn’t made for a clip art CD-ROM. I have no disrespect for musicians who write for libraries, I actually collect and listen to old library records, but it’s just 2 different industries for music distribution.

I’m making a film on an indy budget. There’s a chance it may be picked up and sold, but I can’t afford a license.

This isn’t  a big deal. We can cross the bridge when we come to it. If your film ends up being distributed yourself or through Kickstarter/etc to a limited amount of people, we can negotiate an affordable license. There are lots of options like length of use, region, etc. If your film gets picked up by Miramax, I’d rather negotiate a license with them than someone just out of film school anyway. So hopefully that structure makes my music friendly to a shoe-string film budget.

Hopefully this covers everything a bit more thoroughly. Again, I’ve always greatly appreciated people sharing my music. It’s been a vital part of me being able to make a living and continue releasing it. I hope this post doesn’t sound brute or discourage sharing or artistic use. If I won the lottery I’d make all my music public domain anyway.

If you need a license or have a unique situation that isn’t covered here, please email: mark@alphabasic.com.
Thanks for reading.

July Tour

I bought a giant, tour-friendly SUV.
I’ve updated my live rig.
I have a lot of people asking me to play their city.

I don’t have a booking agent anymore, and am often treated like a band playing their first show when cold-calling venues (on the rare chance anyone responds).

Regardless, this is what I’d like to make happen this July.  Wish me luck. I need it.

My music and Youtube and monetization.

I’m writing this almost as a bookmark to send to people dealing with this situation either with my music or someone else’s.

Here’s the setup.

1, Someone emails me or my handler (yeah, I’m a black bear) asking if they can use my music in their Youtube video, or reads an infographic on Alphabasic.com explaining what usage is allowed.

2. They put my music in their totally awesome or totally stupid non-commercial video.

3. Google sends them a warning saying they’ve violated the copyright of some company and disables monetization.

4. They email me angry that I would give them permission and then go after them.

So here’s the thing. I AM totally 100% okay with you using my music in anything that isn’t an advertisement, broadcast on television, played in theaters, or sold for financial gain. In the vast majority of these cases, I’m not even aware of the video. The problem lies in the massive organizational clusterfuck between Tunecore, Audiam, and Google, who all work together with the efficiency of a union plumber, union electrician, and alcoholic union foreman (Chicago joke, maybe).

I have no option of “whitelisting” anything other than my channel, and for years I’ve been receiving copyright violations on my own music anyway.

I’m typing on my laptop while eating seafood and looking at the ocean, so I’m not going to ruin this experience by going on a rant about how shitty the IP organization  is between these giant publishing firms and giant content providers are. But I can promise you, no matter how frustrated you are with it, I’m perpetually about 4 times more frustrated with it.

So what can you do?

Well, a couple big channels have had success with simply sending me a waiver detailing the use and including the Youtube video link, getting it back from me with a signature, and then sending it to Google.  That seems to do the trick.

The problem with that, is that roughly 20 new videos show up on Youtube per day with my music in them, so my life would be printing, signing, scanning, and providing technical support for this wacky copyright permission system, which I have no desire to do.

I haven’t figured out the details yet. But for monetized videos, I’m going to set a flat rate for signed permission sheet, and a slightly larger flat rate to have the permission agreement made and signed for you. Then, 100% of the profit from that fee will go to charity.

That way at least a kid gets a bag free bag of rice and some shoe laces out of the whole thing.

So anyway, it’s super annoying, and there’s little I can do about it. I despise it because Youtube is a huge promotion tool and this IP fingerprint library crap discourages that from happening.

My Life With Comcast

Below is an excerpt of an email I sent to the FCC and my local senators/congressmen. The reason I’m posting it here is because I’d like to encourage everyone with Comcast or Time Warner to do this. I feel that if everyone can see that they’re not alone in their frustration, they’ll be more inspired to organize and fight this thing while it’s on the table. 

Here is a brief summary of my complicated relationship with Comcast:

  • 2001 – Hometown, IL: Comcast acquires AT&T Broadband. My service stays the same, but my bill is slightly increased.
  • 2002-2008 – Hometown, IL:  After someone continually hijacked my service by merely using my IP address, I quickly realize that I can easily port scan every computer connected to my node with no limitations or security. Anyone sharing a folder is basically “on my network”, and I enjoy unrestricted access to my neighbor’s files.
  • 2006-2008 – Hometown, IL: Service outages average 4-5 per week. I frequently find myself parked outside a cafe uploading/downloading files for work.
  • 2008 – Hometown, IL: Comcast repeatedly threatens to disconnect my service for downloading and sharing my own music.
  • 2008 – Wicker Park, Chicago: I move, and am charged unreturned equipment fees for a modem I have purchased myself.
  • 2008-2009 – Wicker Park, Chicago: My service is deplorable for over a year. My entire apartment complex is sharing the same line that is simply split over and over into different units. When the modem isn’t resetting, I cannot get internet speeds fast enough to watch streaming video or download large files. The problem is confirmed by dozens of technicians over the year, but none of them can run a line from the utility pole to provide me the service I am paying for.
  • 2009 – Wicker Park, Chicago: I discover that Comcast is the only ISP in my neighborhood. Not the only cable provider, the only ISP. There are no DSL or even Clear wireless services, and that is due to “legislation”. 
  • 2009 – Wicker Park, Chicago: I hire an attorney to deal with Comcast about my billing contract and service problems. Comcast immediately sends out competent technicians who not only install dedicated lines to my apartment, but upgrade the nodes in the neighborhood, as the entire neighborhood was having constant issues due to Comcast never upgrading the network to support the amount of subscribers.
  • 2010 - Bridgeport, Chicago: I move again. Comcast technicians drill a hole through my closet door and install the line there. For the following 3.5 years I must unplug my the coax cable to access my storage area. 
  • 2011 – Bridgeport, Chicago: Again, I am charged unreturned equipment fees for the same modem that I own.
  • 2011-2013 – Bridgeport, Chicago: Other than paying an absurd $79 a month for internet access, things are pretty swell. I experience decent speeds (for Comcast standards) and very little downtime.
  • 2014 – Bridgeport, Chicago: There is a fire on my block, and Comcast has to repair the lines. They install a node directly in front of my work desk window. I ask them to please move it 2ft further down the line, and I am told this is not possible.
  • 2014 – Bridgeport, Chicago: I bring a ladder outside and move the node 2ft further down the line in about 40 seconds.
  • 2014 – Bridgeport, Chicago: Comcast unrolls “Xfinity WIFI”, where unsuspecting customers leasing modems/routers now host public WIFI hotspots to anyone with a Comcast username/password. I’m still using my own modem, so I’m unaffected, but I’m concerned about security.
  • 2014 – Bridgeport, Chicago: To test how insecure this is, I setup a very simple “honeypot attack”. People all over the neighborhood automatically connect to my “honeypot” and (manually or automatically) send me their usernames and passwords. Those usernames and passwords give access not only to the customer’s Comcast email, settings, and DVR, but would allow me to disable their “Comcast Home Security” systems and even view their security cameras. There is no encryption, no 2-step verification, and any customer who has ever used “Xfinity WIFI” is at risk.
  • 2014 – Bridgeport, Chicago: I write an email to Comcast explaining exactly how insecure their systems are with the public WIFI, no response.
  • 2014 – Decatur, GA: Guess who’s the only available ISP on the other side of the country? Also, guess who goofed and sent a technician to an empty house 2 weeks before I even moved in and charged me $50 for it?
  • 2014 – Chicago, IL: I am notified that I must return my Comcast equipment (still, my modem that I purchased). But this time I’m prepared! In the shared basement of my building there is a pile of Comcast equipment, to the tune of 7 cables boxes and a couple of modems. I tell Comcast that they may come pick up the equipment, but they explain that I have to pay them $50 for that. I take the equipment to an office and insist that I get a confirmation letter proving that I returned equipment (even though I didn’t lease any to begin with).
  • 2014 – Decatur, GA: Comcast technician doesn’t show up to install service. They have no record of the appointment.
  • 2014 – Decatur, GA: Another technician comes, is quite rude, and Comcast charges me $50 for his brief visit, and $50 for the previous visit that they had no record of. I am now being charged for installation 3 times.
  • 2014 – Decatur, GA: On my second bill, I receive an “Unreturned Equipment Fee”. I send them the confirmation letter I received in Chicago. Comcast tells me that it says otherwise on their records, and my service will be disconnected if I do not pay.
  • 2014 – Decatur, GA: I am introduced to the concept of a “bandwidth cap” in my new home. I am allowed 300gb, and must pay $10 per 50gb after that.  Of course, somehow, I am charged $20 extra in bandwidth fees.
  • 2014 – Decatur, GA: Curious to how I was using so much bandwidth, I setup a log on my router to see what is using so much data. After a month, my total usage is 197gb. My bill for the same month says I used over 400gb. Comcast tells me this is indisputable and threaten to shut off my service if I do not pay.
  • 2014 – Decatur, GA: Comcast calls me saying that if I don’t pay an outstanding balance of $120, they will shut off my service. I explain that I just paid my bill a week ago, and I am told that this balance migrated from Chicago. I call Comcast in Chicago and they do not show a record of it. The following day my service is suspended and I have to pay the mysterious $120 to have it restored.

    I’m sure I’m leaving many things out, as my frustration with this company has been almost constant since they became an unavoidable part of my life. The point I am trying to make is that in a competitive, capitalistic environment, Comcast would have lost my business time and time again in the last 13 years. I can honestly state that I would pay double for the same broadband service from a different company. And that is why Comcast needs to be not only regulated, but investigated for anti-trust violations. 

Facerights

Facebook has me in a weird place. I really dislike using it. I find myself scrolling through people’s posts and laughing at their self-praise for mundane accomplishments. I seem to only have a desire to contribute when I have some wisdom to share on a topic I’m well brushed-up in, or to call out a fake article or pseudoscience.

So, in other words, I behave like the type of person I hate.

But I’m stuck. I’m planning on quitting very soon, but I have anxiety that when I do, I’ll lose tabs on contacts regarding touring for myself and other Alphabasic artists. I’m worried that my official Flashbulb page will go to hell without me personally moderating it. I’m scared that I will lose touch with friends who won’t be reminded of my presence after I vanish from their news feed.

And that’s why Facebook is worth a shit. In droves, so many of us have blindly stepped away from our open-air internet, where we used AIM, ICQ, IRC, forums, and email to communicate, and traded it for a modern day America Online. Roughly a quarter of my private messages on Facebook are business related, and that’s terrifying.

But I saw the pool, and I dove in. I don’t “hate Facebook”, I just kind of hate myself for allowing myself to rely on it so much. And I’m going to have to be penalized for my mistake when I finally nuke my account.

Below this sentence, things are going to be a little more controversial.

Perhaps this is more of a problem of a semi-popular musician, but every day, when I log in to Facebook, I have a friend request or two. Roughly half of these are from someone who’s name is the likes of “Illuminaughty Obama” and has a dozen photos of nonsense as their profile pictures.

This kind of crap pisses me off.

So, you’re asking to see a timeline of my life, the schools I attended, my personal photos, conversations that I’m having in comments, my relationship status, etc., but you can’t even share your real name or a photograph of yourself? What’s in it for me?

That leads us into this controversy, where Facebook is being pinned for attacking the LGBT community by requiring users to use their legal names.

A few points I’d like to make:

This has nothing to do with rights. Facebook is a company providing a service that you use for free, so you don’t even have most basic consumer rights. When you sign up, you agree to their terms. Everything you do on Facebook is a privilege, not a right. Facebook grants you the privilege to deactivate or delete your account if you no longer agree to their terms of service, and the most powerful thing you can do to protest them for having a rule that offends you is removing yourself from the site.

Another criticism is that people in witness protection programs or individuals that will risk danger if they are found on the site will lose their safe harbor of having an pseudo-anonymous identity.  I sympathize with the hardship of being in that situation, but if you have any predisposed fear of being discovered or stalked online, you should not be using Facebook. Period.

Finally, while I don’t really care for most of the things Facebook does, I have to defend the company in some regard. Their business is reliant on users being targeted for ads, and that’s how they are able to provide you with this free service. This is no mystery to anyone, and it shouldn’t be a mystery why they would want you to provide your real identity. Also, while Facebook is pretty good at dealing with it, spam is still a huge problem on the site, constantly looming around threatening to make the service unusable. Cryptic, hidden profiles with fake names and pictures of nonsense are easily confused for spam accounts.

Changing your name isn’t difficult. It’s a couple forms and a small fee, and you’re set. If a social media site doesn’t want to be a platform for you to test a bunch of fake identities, that’s their decision, and again, has nothing to do with your rights being infringed upon or violated. It just means that you can’t offer or are unwilling to offer the minimum information required to use the service.

For performers and people with secondary or complimentary personas, you have the option to open a fully operational fan page for that identity.

Finally, for as much as I hear about people’s freedoms and rights in regards to Facebook, it’s always been a bit of a pet peeve that so many people expect so many considerations for their “rights”, but then hide behind a fake identity to prevent discourse or taking a personal responsibility for the crap that comes out of their mouths.

That’s not what freedom of speech is, and that certainly isn’t what Facebook’s policies are.

Facebook, in my opinion, seems like an incredibly shitty company. So let’s quit using it then, instead of constantly complaining about their changes and terms of service policies.

I still use AIM to communicate more than anything else, by the way. Almost everyone on my buddy list is over 30 years old. There’s so many things that we just can’t quit, I guess.

On Aphex Twin

A few years ago, I was playing a gig at a festival somewhere in the US. Like usual with those types of gigs, things are terribly unorganized, and you kind of “blend in” with the audience when you’re in the process of loading gear or trying to find someone.

FYI: That’s the worst time and place to have a conversation with your favorite musician. We have to choose between being short with you or not adeptly preparing for a performance. Okay, scratch that, it’s the 2nd worst time and place. The 1st is when your favorite musician is going number 2 in the venue’s bathroom stall. To the person who put me through that, be glad that I never saw your face.

Anyways, I was darting around anxiously trying to fix something or find someone to fix something, and a small group of youngans were walking after me asking me questions. One of the questions was “Who is your inspiration?”, and, being too distracted to give a full answer, I just blurted out “Aphex Twin”. One of them said “who?” It stopped me dead in my tracks. They had blank expressions on their faces, waiting for an answer.

I stood in awe that anyone could ever “get to” my music without Aphex Twin being a bridge. I almost feel like it is criminal for anyone to listen to my music without a familiarity of Aphex Twin, because so much of my past work is just driving around on roads he paved. Heck, half of electronic music is.

Time machine: 

When I was 15 or so, I had a friend who was an industrial music enthusiast. He lent me “Select Ambient Works Volume II” because it was “creepy”. It was the first time I had heard ambient music, and those 2 CDs became an obsession of mine. I asked friends and music stores for more music like it, but everything they recommended wasn’t even comparable. SAW II just sounded so genuine, analog, and unique.

About a year later, I was hanging out at Best Buy. I had a little “business” where an employee of a used CD resale shop would tell me the most valuable releases that week, and then I would shoplift them and return an hour later. I would say that I regret being this much of an asshole when I was a teenager, but that behavior funded nothing other than my portion of rent and gear to record my own demos. Anyway, I noticed an open box of CDs that someone was stocking on the shelves, and saw “Aphex Twin – I Care Because You Do” in there. I had to choose between buying it and canceling my shoplifting plans, or waiting a few hours to come back and lift it off the shelves once it was stocked. I chose the former, and scurried home to listed to another installment of peaceful, beatless, ambient music.

I was outraged. The first track sounded like hip hop. Most of the album was loud and squelchy. What did this guy do with his music? Ugh. I gave it a couple more rotations and it grew on me. Then it completely took me over. Again, I had heard nothing like it before. It challenged everything I knew about electronic music. Hell, it challenged everything everyone knew about electronic music at the time.

In those days, the information superhighway didn’t go much farther than chatting with another random teenage dude asking if you’re a girl. So somehow, between what I heard and my own imagination, I thought Richard James was a black guy from New York. The CD store that was acting as my fence promised to beep me when the distributor listed a new album from him.

Not a week later, I got a weird number on my pager and made my way to a pay phone only to discover that a new Aphex Twin album was listed, but under a different alias. It was $30, vinyl only, and would take up to 8 weeks to arrive. I dug through my house for the money, and put in the order. The anticipation was intense. When the record finally arrived, I was holding “AFX – Hangable Auto Bulb Vol. 1″. I held my own personal listening party.

“What…the…fuck?”  This sounded like sped up Nintendo music. I was sure that someone screwed something up, and AFX was a completely different artist. I tried playing the record at different speeds. Nope. Still positive that I was listening to a different artist, I tried to get my $30 worth out of the album. It started intriguing me. Then, again, it changed my understanding of electronic music.

Let’s fast forward and get to the point. “Richard D. James album”: Wow. Boom. “Come To Daddy”: Confused, bewildered, amazed. “Windowlicker”: Initially cringing, then challenged, my brain eventually melted.

The moral of the story here, is that it might be hard to understand why Aphex Twin is so important without living through that discovery. Every…single…thing that Richard James produced, defied any expectation, and ripped apart whatever it was you thought was possible in electronic music production. His music wasn’t driven by anything other than his astounding, seemingly unlimited creativity. There was simply no way you could prepare yourself for what he was going to release next. You would be hearing a new genre, and his abstract production would almost always guarantee that it would be the first, last, and only release in that genre.

That “era”, in my mind, ended with “Drukqs”. It was the first album that was at least somewhat within the realms of what I would expect. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredible album from start to finish. Curiously enough, that’s also when Richard James stopped releasing music as Aphex Twin. You have the “Analord” series and whatnot, which is absolutely worth listening to, but it’s more controlled and focused. While it’s enjoyable as hell, it feels like you’re listening to the melodic results of a synth laboratory.

Until now.
Out of thin air, Aphex Twin is releasing a new album, “Syro”. And like 15 years ago, I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I’ve been invited to an apparently kinda-exclusive listening party thrown by Warp Records, but I can’t imagine listening to a new Aphex Twin album in any other setting than sitting in a chair on the opposite end of my own speakers. Hopefully going through the same ear challenges that I did when I was a teenager.

Why am I writing this?
Because if you haven’t listened to Aphex Twin’s career carefully and with attention, you’ve missed out on an incredible journey. Many of us listen to music with attention deficit disorder these days, even often lacking an actual audio system or decent headphones.

Now would be a great time to press play, close your eyes, and catch up. It will help appreciate “Syro” in a similar context and journey that so many of us enjoyed in the 1990′s.

Dude, Where’s My Car?

So here’s a story, I’ll keep it brief and factual. I want to fill it with expletives, but it’s more entertaining as a tale.
The reason I’m even telling it is to answer one of two questions.

1. “Uh, where is your car?”
2. “Why are you leaving Chicago?”

Once upon a time, I bought a car. A new 2012 Kia Soul+. I paid exorbitant amounts of taxes and registration fees, because I live in Chicago.
So a year later, in 2013, my registration expired. Normally in Illinois, you get a postcard in the mail reminding you to update it, and giving you a secret code to enter online or at a pay station to do so. I never got the post card.

No big deal, right? I can just go to a DMV. A pain in the butt, but much better than risking getting tickets for expired registration!
So I went to a DMV, they couldn’t help me without the postcard and told me to go to a different location where they could.
I went to another DMV, they didn’t know what the 1st DMV was talking about and couldn’t help me without the postcard, but recommended I mail a letter to the secretary of state.
I mailed a letter to the secretary of state, and I assume he opened it up, rolled it into a tube, and smoked it like a cigar.

More DMV visits, emails, calls, letters follow, while I am bombarded with tickets for having expired registration. The first few I contested, and then got fined for contesting them, and was told that there is no excuse for having expired registration. Contesting the tickets costs 3x more than the original fine, so I just stopped contesting them and made a point to park in garages or parking lots as much as possible, since the city is using high tech devices in vehicles that read and flag license plates. It’s like a sci-fi movie warning you of how much the future is going to suck, but it’s the present, and it’s not a movie, it’s reality.

Having expired registration is also a great excuse for the Chicago police to pull you over and search your car for heroin, which has happened a half dozen times. Meanwhile I’m just playing a very expensive game of whack-a-mole, trying to keep my car from being towed or booted before I move away in a month to new city and state that allows you to register your vehicle.

Last month I went on a 2 week trip, and I drove my car. Apparently, I somehow ripped a hole in time and space, and my car was parking all over the city getting tickets for expired registration at the same time that it was climbing dirt roads in Montana, Washington, and South Dakota. I, unfortunately, wasn’t split into 2 separate Benns, so I didn’t get any of the tickets, or even know that they existed.

Until last night.
My car was booted around 10pm. That sets a 24 hour countdown where you have to travel to a far away location, plead guilty on paper and pay whatever made up fines they quote, or else they tow your car and start charging you $175 a day after that. So, ok. In a cab I go. The location was at an airport, but it wasn’t an actual address. So I just get dropped off at the airport. I walk around like a zombie asking employees where this office is, and finally manage to find a woman who works for the airport who can see in my bloodshot eyes that I’m only about an hour away from being permanently mentally broken. She makes a dozen calls and finally locates the secret office. It’s about a mile away from the airport.

So I walk in the middle of the sidewalkless street, at 4am, holding nothing but a piece of orange paper with my boot number on it. I finally find the office, which is oddly inside a taxi/limo staging lot. The one employee is asleep behind 4 inches of bulletproof glass. I tap, knock, pound, nothing. I finally play an MP3 on my phone and slide it under the glass. She wakes up, but is really mad that she was woken up.
After insisting that she try some alternate methods to find my car in the system for 10 minutes, it is finally located. She prints out a piece of paper that has the text “$1,600″ on it and slides it under the glass. No ticket numbers. Just “Pay this or your car is ours”.

So I pay it and am informed that my car will be unbooted before 10am. I walk out and ask a cab driver to drive me home, but they tell me that they get fined for picking up a fare inside the staging area. But if I walk a mile back to the airport, they can pick me up, but there’s also an airport fee. I don’t even respond and just walk to the nearest el (subway) station. I don’t have a “Ventra” card, and the system is timing out when I try to sign up for one. My old CTA cards that have $20 in prepaid fare on them no longer work. The person working in the train station has the same demeanor as the person working in the DMV.

So, with my phone out of batteries and my spirit burnt out, I just give up and walk home. The 7 or so miles actually only takes me about 3 hours. I go inside, pet my dog, and call a cab. After an hour wait, and another fare, the cab takes me back to my car. Well, correction, it takes me back to the location where my car was. It’s gone now. I call a few numbers and finally manage to talk to a few people, and nobody seems to know where it is. They also keep suggesting that I’m being dishonest, since my car “shouldn’t have” been towed.

So maybe it was stolen in the short window between the boot coming off and me coming to pick it up. I’m about to have a cab driver bring me to all of the tow yards in the city before filing a report and insurance claim.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is just one of the many, many tales behind me putting this dysfunctional, corrupt city behind me.

Making Everyone Go Away

As a bit of a hermit and someone who occasionally plays Project Zomboid with the zombies disabled just to fantasize about being the only person on Earth, I had this neat idea.

I was playing around with some astrophotography software that “stacks” similar images with the goal of making star trails or canceling out noise. I had this silly idea for a photo project/book: What if you subtract data rather than stack it to make a place like Times Square look abandoned?

The result using software like StarStax or Photoshop’s statistic scripting yields interesting, but unsuccessful results. So I upped the dork level and searched for a platform that would allow me to solve linear problems that could use image data. I gave up and finished my last album.

Then, getting obsessed with this task again, eureka: GNU Octave.
So the idea with my script is, if something appears exactly the same 2 times or more, keep it. If something changes, throw it away. Then the remaining data is re-rendered to a high resolution jpg image, and then the clusterfuck of images is stacked in Photoshop. Not too difficult, right?

Wrong. It’s actually uncomfortable to know how many combined images you have to take during the day in an urban area to be able to see every piece of sidewalk, road, or building two times without any obstruction. The first successful number is 2,100 in Chinatown on a normal Sunday afternoon with a 10mm lens. That’s 46gb of image data, and about 5 hours processing time.

However this is exponential, so if sidewalk and road traffic were twice as bad, or if I did this at rush hour in Times Square, it would take an estimated 4.4 million images, or 97tb of data. Not only would I need a giant RAID array hooked up to my camera and a military grade mainframe to process the mean data, but if I had a super camera capable of taking 3 images per second without ever needing a cool down period, it would take me 169 days to capture the aforementioned data, which certainly is far more than enough time for the sun to change position enough to make the data worthless.

So the bad news is, I’ll have to try Times Square again in 20 years.

If you’ve read this far, here it is, Chinatown an hour after the rapture: Before and after.

china-empty-web

Comcast Might Actually Be An Evil Genius

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that my relationship with Comcast is a caustic one that gets dirty and personal. It all started in early 2008 when they suspended my account and sent me a warning for downloading a torrent of my own album. I didn’t have to fight much, the person on the phone agreed that it was absurd and promptly cleared my name and reinstated my service.

Then I moved to the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago where, for a year, I had a constant dropping connection and speeds that were closer to dial up than the national broadband average. It turned out that they had 1 node for the entire densely populated neighborhood. The norm is 1-4 nodes per residential block depending on amount of subscribers. After months of complaining, tweeting, writing, and even threatening, finally came the day when everyone in Wicker Park’s internet went down for a few hours, and came back delivering broadband speeds.

Then I moved to Bridgeport, to an old carriage house that didn’t have any broadband lines installed. The “technician” drilled through my closet door because he was too lazy to fish line through dry wall. Seriously, I have to unplug my entire network whenever I have to go into my storage.

2 days ago they installed this, apparently a fiber array that could have went anywhere in the 250ft between utility poles, but, despite my protest, blocks my desk window and bans me from my daily sunset view, which I was pretty darn attached to.

But this isn’t about me. This is actually praise for Comcast. Not the praise that you would have for something respectable, but praise for something so is incredibly avant-garde-shitty and ballsy, that you can’t even be mad.

A little while ago, Comcast started rolling out a gigantic, semi-public WIFI network. The awe-inducing part is that this network runs, without permission, from customer’s routers and internet connections. If you’re leasing a Comcast modem/router combo, you’re paying them to host a semi-public network on your connection, using your bandwidth and your electricity.

Am I the only one that thinks it is insane that Comcast would be making special back doors in all of their routers that would enable them to pump some firmware into them that would make them dual mode devices that would pass out your internet connection without your consent or knowledge? It’s a huge security risk. It’s a huge ethical shitstorm. But most impressively, it’s a huge, expensive, organized pain in the ass.

And why? Are you just trying to be dicks at this point? In case they haven’t noticed, most of us don’t use WIFI when checking our email when walking down an urban street. 4G has come a long way, and in many cases outperforms Comcast’s direct broadband speeds. So why…oh….OH. Wow.

Did you catch it? The big snip. The plan so sinister that I keep wondering if I’m turning into a paranoid train wreck.

Let’s pretend that you’re sitting in the park having a picnic with your wife. Your wife insists that Joe Montana is a pop singer, and you know that you can easily resolve this dispute by shouting “JOE MONTANA” into Google Now or Siri or whatever pathetic excuse for an AI assistant you have. But it doesn’t work because you’re connected to an open WIFI AP that requires a username and password to bypass the proxy and use the internet connection. You have to turn your WIFI off and try again using the data plan you pay for from your mobile provider.

Since Comcast rolled this out in Chicago, I can’t get away from the Xfinity Network. I have no use for it, I’ve banned access points, but every one has it’s own ID, so the new ones pop up and cock blocks my phone’s 3G/4G internet connection. If you’re not a Comcast customer, you can’t use it. See what I’m getting at?
Comcast is tricking your smart phone into thinking it’s on an open network, which makes it abandon its mobile data connection, forcing you to choose between being a Comcast customer, disabling open network use, or turning your WIFI off every time you leave the house. And it’s doing this by hijacking peoples private home internet connections and covertly turning them into public WIFI beacons.

I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.

With all the lobbying and package structuring and Mr. Burns’-esq plans, you would think that it would just be easier to roll out some fiber and lead us to the next generation. Giant, monopolistic conglomerates that hold back technology don’t do very well in the very long term. If you don’t believe me, read me the date on your last AT&T or Southern Bell phone bill, or log on to AOL and have yourself a chat. A decade from now, Google will be the lawnmower buzzing over Comcast’s old, unsightly, tall grass. Rather than using their resources to provide an affordable, globally competitive service, Comcast has shoveled their investments into lobbying and shit like this. Every year, they scoot closer to being unwanted, but needed until something better comes along.

Anyway, I just think this whole dark plan of theirs is fascinating, insane, and possibly even genius (in the utmost evil way, of course.)

If I have time this weekend, I’m going to look into making a tasker script or simple program that will tell my rooted Nexus to ignore any Comcast related WIFI AP. If I do, I’ll post the source or APK here.

So give Comcast a hand. They’ve innovated some amazing ways and overcome some truly impressive feats to ruin WIFI as a functional amenity. But more importantly, buy your own modem and router. That’s the only way you can “opt” out of your home internet connection being leased as a public WIFI service.

If you’re having a similar problem with your phone, you can turn off open networks, but you’ll have to re-enable it the next time you need to use WIFI in a hotel. office building, library, etc (anywhere with a multiple AP configuration).