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).

Showseed And Some Early Drama

I suppose you know you have a pretty good idea when people are threatening to ruin your life over it.

A few days after uploading my video vaguely outlining my Showseed project, I got a couple of emails and messages from people kind of aggressively telling me that another company is already doing this much better than I could, and there’s no point for me to bother.

I’m sure I’m the millionth person to think of crowdfunding live events. A good fraction of Kickstarter is filled with bands trying to crowdfund tours. This is nothing new. I always felt like Kickstarter is a shitty platform for it though. The task of using the money left over after Kickstarter fees to book your first tour on your own, then figuring out who has tickets to which show, and who gets which perk, is complicated and error prone. It also stinks of charity a bit. It’s like saying “Help us so we can be a successful band!” rather than “Want to see us play? Ok, here!”.

So, as stated on the Showseed site. It’s not a startup, or a business, or foundation, or a network. It’s just a workflow that may or may not be released as an open source CMS (or perhaps a WordPress plugin if I had some development help). If it grew beyond my personal use, nobody would ever have to go to my website. Any growth, improvement, or further development would be out of my hands and control. That’s my idea, anyway. I have no desire to run a tech start-up. I’m an artist, and the more time I spend not being one, the less happy I am.

So anyways, over the weekend I got slapped with a cease and desist order claiming that I’m violating a patent. The company that sent it hasn’t even launched yet. They haven’t booked any shows, worked with any artists, and don’t even explain what their business model is on their website, which is still in pre-launch status.

I had a helpful friend look into it a bit deeper, and they DO have a pending patent, but I can’t imagine it is technically anything close to my idea. If it were, you’d have someone developing an open source platform to help artists for no compensation or profit suing someone else for doing the same thing. It doesn’t make much sense.

So the question is, if I disobey the C&D, will I be litigated into poverty? Or are they just bullying me because what I’m attempting to do for free essentially voids the purpose of their multi-million dollar startup?

I understand that it would be virtually impossible for them to actually WIN a lawsuit of this nature, but if they have a few attorneys on retainer, they can bury me in litigation for years.

I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do. I guess I need to think it over and get some further advice.

One thing is for certain though, this company, whom I won’t name because they’re already lawsuit crazed, is claiming to be the saving grace for touring musicians, while throwing money at attorneys to attack independent musicians for trying to crowdfund their own performances.

Thanks but no thanks, assholes.

Why I Fight.

This post is sort of an answer to a common question or a reply to common remarks I receive from people via email, in person, or on social media sites is in regards to my “fighting”.

I certainly don’t feel the need to explain my hobbies to anyone, but I feel the need to at least humbly attempt to take some stigma away from a very legitimate sport.

A question I often get from people, and do not have the time to adequately answer, is “Why do you fight?”.  A lot of times this question comes with hints that I’m battling personal demons, or even more ridiculous theories that perhaps I’m associating with the wrong people.
It is often more appropriate for me to answer with a question recalling the same level of closed-mindedness: “Why do you not?”.

Paragraph answer:
I have never not fought. I was a junior black belt in Taekwondo. Then I went into wrestling in high school. Immediately after high school I transitioned to American Jiu Jitsu (black), Gracie Jiu Jitsu (purple), and amateur MMA. In my late 20′s and early 30′s I concentrated on Muay Thai, Boxing, Judo, and eventually professional MMA. It’s a hobby that I enjoy, and I find that the more involved I am in it, the healthier I am, both physically and mentally.

But since the internet loves reading top # lists…

6 Great Reasons To Fight Competitively

1. Physical Health
This is the obvious one that should surprise nobody. There is no way that you can be involved in any form of competitive fighting without being in the best physical shape of your life. Of course, you’re almost always injured somewhere during training. But a stress fracture in your ankle doesn’t threaten to shorten your life. Cardiovascular stress, obesity, and poor diet does. In addition, being in great cardiovascular shape doesn’t just mean you can run to the store without running out of breath, it shows up in every facet of your life. You see noticeable improvement in your metabolism, your immune system, and even nagging life long ailments like eczema and frequent migraines often disappear. Most importantly for me, good physical health brings on #2.

2. Mental Health
Whether you’re a physician, a yoga instructor, or a neuroscientist, you simply can’t deny the insurmountable evidence that physical health and mental health are closely intertwined. In fact, cardiovascular health has shown to increase brain size and function, increasing spatial memory by up to 40%, and can even stave off or slow degenerative brain diseases. There is no placebo effect at play. Even if I’m tired and sore, the influx of dopamine and serotonin gained by training or sparring in the morning help me concentrate, stay focused, and feel accomplishment for the rest of my day in the studio. Like night and day, the more involved I am in training, the less I feel symptoms of anxiety, depersonalization, or depression. For me, it is more effective than any drug or therapy at accomplishing relief for the above symptoms.

3. Healthy Competition
If there was one thing I can never do, it is merely going to the gym or go jogging simply to stay in shape or improve my appearance. I can’t even imagine checking into a fitness club, running on the treadmill, lifting weights, doing some pilates, and then calling it a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I completely lack motivation if there isn’t an end goal. But that’s why marathons and soccer leagues exist, they give you a deadline for your personal fitness achievements, and directly reward you if you’ve reached those achievements. Over the course of a few years, being on a soccer team or running marathons is no less dangerous than competing in MMA.  The point is, a lot of people aren’t in shape because it is miserably boring when they don’t have competition as a reward and climax to all their hard work.

4. Peace And Self-Discipline
For the sake of this post, this is probably the most important thing to note, since it directly attacks the misconception that combat sports are related to general violence. While I am certainly not timid, soft-spoken, or afraid of confrontation, I rarely lose my temper. The amount of people, in my entire life, who have witnessed me punching or throwing something out of frustration, or even raising my voice in anger can be counted on one hand. I attribute this, almost 100%, to training. When you focus on, let’s say striking, to the point of it being a skilled art-form refined over many years, it stops being a subconscious tool to use when you’re angry. It’s no longer as simple and instinctive as using your fist or foot as a loosely controlled bludgeon, and because of that, when I can no longer tolerate a situation or person, I’ve mostly lost any instinctive desire to physically harm them.

This is reflected vice-versa in every contact sport, and you learn it on your first day. Your muscle fibers operate and react much faster when relaxed, and even sparring feels much closer to a speed chess game than a venue to express anger. In boxing, one of the first things you have to conquer in training is the speed bag. The beauty of a speed bag is that it is completely impossible to use when frustrated, angry, or impatient. The sooner you learn how to free your mind of that stress, focus, and relax, the sooner you see improvement when hitting it. And that’s the point. You’re not learning how to strike with a speed bag, you’re learning how to relax and strip the association of negative and violent thoughts away from striking.

So when someone says “Wow, I’d better not piss you off!”, I laugh to myself. The absolute last thing I would ever want to do is solve a disagreement with violence, and I don’t even have a violent urge or temptation to struggle with in those types of rare situations.

People generally associate MMA with the yoked up guys who wear UFC or Affliction shirts and start fights at clubs. I do encounter these people from time to time, but they either show up to a class or training camp once and never return, or they quickly get transformed into humble individuals.  Which brings me to #5.

5. Socialization
There’s this whole side of my life where I deal with a lot of disrespect, poor-sportsmanship, ego, and general douche-baggery. And it’s in my career as a touring musician. When on tour, I have been threatened, spit on, shoved, and even had to defend myself. Albeit, usually by someone who is intoxicated or out of their mind. This type of emotional conflict has never happened to me in a training camp or even competition. Even if you have a scheduled fight against someone, that person is an athlete, just like you, who is just as nervous as you are. You both have something together that words cannot describe, much like people do with “war buddies” or even family members. My training camp has people from many walks of life. There’s a high school teacher, a bartender, an ex-gang member, a few full time fighters, a plumber, an investment banker, and even a famous politician who is now in prison (me being from Illinois certainly doesn’t make that an easy guess). But while I have so little in common with any of them, they are the first people to detect if something is bothering me, and they are the first who would offer whatever they could to help.
This might not sound like anything unique to some people. But I come from a very sparsely connected family, and a lot of the relationships you gain as a musician are more about networking and common interests than something deep or genuine. So to me, it’s very relevant to give to and receive from this avenue of deep, steadfast respect.

6. It’s A Creative Outlet
A long time ago I accepted the fact that I’m drawn to things that allow me to be creative, whether I’m good at them or not, or even whether they’re productive or not. I’ve logged way more time into stupid Roller Coast Tycoon games than I have Call Of Duty. The difference between MMA and most other sports is that MMA is still rapidly evolving. You have your general do’s and don’t’s, but after that, if you plan to be successful in any way, you need to pave your own path so your opponents can’t prepare for you. So what you have is an intense strategic sport that is relatively new and unexplored. You’re encouraged to be creative and use your head, and those that do that well are undoubtedly the champions and icons in the sport.  I think that aspect, more than anything, is what kept this as a big hobby of mine in one way or another since I was a child.

In the past 2 years I have been professionally commissioned, but I mostly made that jump because I’m in my 30′s and I feel like I would regret not taking it seriously later in life. While it makes touring a bit more difficult, it has no effect on the time or energy I put into writing music. And I have no plans to switch careers or even continue maintaining this level of training for more than a couple of years.

So, I have no demons that I’m fighting, or no toughness to prove.  I am in the best mental and physical health of my life and thoroughly enjoying what I’m doing.

I hope this post helps wash away the distaste and negative connotation of MMA from some of my readers. I’ve never understood the general thick border between athletes and musicians, or sports fans and music-nerds. I think we may have a lot to learn from each other.

I Can’t Believe It’s Getting Better?

It’s Getting Better?

If you read any copyright related interview I did in the last decade, I probably sounded akin to a doomsday prophet. Not that I shouldn’t have. RIAA were suing soccer moms for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Net Neutrality was about to be abolished, SOPA was gaining enough momentum to where we were all positive it would be passed, iTunes was monopolizing the digital music market, and at the bottom of it all, musicians were going broke with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Most of these issues are still around, but becoming more and more neutered. RIAA is slowly figuring out that getting less than 10% of their investment back in mass litigation probably isn’t sustainable or favorable for share holders. With a little backroom pressure  from Congress, the FCC,  just this week, promised us that Net Neutrality will indeed be back to kick the likes of Comcast and Verizon in the balls. After SOPA was thrown out, a similar bill, PIPA, was tossed aside by the Senate Majority Leader.
Musicians are still going broke. But it’s not like my musician friends and I would light Cuban cigars and race our yachts around Lake Michigan in the 90′s. Musicians have always been broke. There’s a joke I vaguely remember, or am making up and not realizing it because I’m tired:

“-How can you hire a musician to come to your house on a Saturday night?
-Order pizza.”

The only thing that changes is the things that musicians blame for making them broke. And it’s not to say that the music industry isn’t full of caustic, evil shit. It totally is. But we all knowingly dove head first into it. I realize 90% of my readers will want to punch me in the face for saying this, but I think being broke is a really important part of being an artist. Example:
When I got my first “break” financially (which was in the licensing/composing realm), I immediately upgraded everything related to my work. I moved into a big 2-floor condo in a artsy part of town, built a 3 room studio in it, put in studio desks, automated surfaces, the works. When I was all done and ready to start making tunes, I was lost. You see, before that, if I spent $700 on a piece of gear, I would stay up for 40 hours learning every single possible feature, hack, and possible use for it. When it came time to use it, I knew exactly how to make it work for me. Now, I sat alone in a 3 room studio with 5 figures worth the gear, only able to make something I was happy making sitting in one small area with the gear I had already owned.
My long-winded point: Being broke makes you value your tools more, which, in turn, makes you much more adept and creative when using those tools.

I still watch new synthesizer review videos as if I’m watching pornography, but I realize that 90% of the “crap” I could accumulate runs a larger risk of hindering my “natural creative process” than helping it.
Not that I could afford it all even if I chose to buy it. My dog and I aren’t starving, but I’m far from wealthy.
Which leads me to:

Spotify. Let’s Think Before We Bitch

(I realize that the sentence above is pure comedy for anyone who follows me on Twitter.)
Something has caught my eye on social media sites and at times, mainstream news reports: Spotify Hate

Why do artists hate Spotify? Well, a shortened answer would be because they aren’t getting a sizable amount of money. But this is, in almost every case, due to one or all of the following reasons:

1. They’ve signed away a chunk, if not all of their streaming royalties to their record label or digital distributor (ahem, IODA). Keep in mind, that even with a straight forward equation such as iTunes, with a very fair record contract, for every $1 the listener spends, the artist will get $0.23 after the label’s, distributor’s, and store’s cut. And that’s after recouping album expenses.  So if your streaming agreement goes by the same rules (if you’re lucky enough to not have completely “licensed” those away), you’re only getting $23 for every $100 out of Spotify.
And yeah, that sucks. But, you suck too for putting your signature on that agreement. The era has passed where we should sob for musicians sucked into bad agreements with record labels and distributors. For decades, labels have been lower on the scale of trust and ethics than personal injury lawyers and used car salesmen. Want to make money? Roll up your sleeves and release your music yourself, or find a label that will respect you enough to give you a fair deal.

2. Bluntly put, nobody is listening to their music. I know people who have complained about Spotify ripping them off on their debut, 3-track, experimental electronic EP. How exactly do they think the system works? If nobody is listening to your music, you’re not generating any income. This is no different than if an unknown artist is on iTunes, or even featured on a CD in Best Buy. Generating a listener base is an unpredictable process that takes the duration of your entire career. Spotify has never claimed to be a solution to that, but in a way, they are, with their radio channels and social network integration.
In this New York Times article, heart strings are pulled for an “avant cellist” who says “In certain types of music, like classical or jazz, we are condemning them to poverty if this is going to be the only way people consume music”.
Did I miss a part of the last 30 years where classical and jazz artists weren’t condemned to poverty? When you see thousands of ravenous fans eagerly waiting at an airport in hopes for a glimpse of their musical idol, they’re Beliebers, not freestyle bassoon junkies. And while that’s a fact that makes me want to walk into the ocean and never return, it, again, isn’t Spotify’s fault.

3. Spotify was started a mere 5 years ago, and wasn’t even fully available in the US until 2 years ago. They’re just now building a vast library and ironing out kinks with their massive servers and device integration, and even then, their subscriber numbers don’t even stand near the ones you’ll see over at iTunes or Netflix. They’re still losing money as a company, but as they grow, they’ve promised to increase royalties. So, it’s safe to say that if Spotify continues to grow at the rate they have, in 2 years they’ll be paying almost triple what they are now. And what they’re paying now per song stream is much higher than the likes of Pandora or Youtube.

And the Spotify hate doesn’t just come from beginning or obscure artists. Thom Yorke said to The Guardian, in jest of Spotify: “We don’t need you to do it. No artists needs you to do it. We can build the shit ourselves, so fuck off.”

Really Thom? You’ve created a legal, royalty paying library of music that will allow me to literally listen to whatever artist I can think of, whenever and wherever I desire to? Because that’s the one thing we, the people, the pirates, the innovators, could not do in the last 7 years when we had all the technology in our hands to do it. Our alternative to piracy has been listening to music encoded as Youtube videos, which is so hilariously ass-backwards that I still can’t wrap my head around it.

(And sorry to be sharp, but if I remember correctly, Radiohead’s last innovation in the world of music distribution was asking their fans for donations for a 128Kbps version of their album, only to sell them a listenable quality version 2 months later via a RIAA-aligned record label.)

The real bottom line to every single issue in the music piracy debate is that people will turn to whatever is the most convenient, as long as it is affordable. I truly believe that the vast majority of music pirates in the Napster era weren’t raiding the music industry like looters in a riot. They were simply acquiring music in a much more convenient way. It’s actually hard to imagine life as a music lover 14 years ago, relying on album artwork and magazine reviews to direct what will fit my pallet, and then having to drive to a music store that would carry what I was looking for and shell out the little money I had to see if it was worth listening to in the first place.

And I think, in another decade, we’ll be scoffing at the idea of trolling websites with porn banners and downloading torrent clients that tricked us into installing toolbars and spyware to “conveniently” acquire an album we wanted to listen to. And for once, finally, the more convenient solution actually involves artists being able to be compensated without a record label.

How Much Are They Really Paying?

Whenever I offer my career’s finances into conclusions like these, I always want to remind you that the data needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Not that it isn’t real, or a good indicator, but every musician has weird trends and slumps in sales that they cannot seem to explain. December of 2012 to December of 2013 is an ideal period of time to crunch numbers from, as I have spent most of that time off the map. I didn’t have any new “The Flashbulb” releases, I didn’t tour that much, and I’ve done no promotion for my own music. There’s aren’t any notable additional variables to consider.

So just short of publicly divulging my income, I can tell you that Spotify has made me about 30% more than iTunes, Pandora, Amazon, Xbox Music, Google Play, eMusic, Rhapsody, Rdio, Deezer, MediaNet, Simky, Nokia, and Myspace Music combined in that period. Even if you tack on my checks from ASCAP to that long list, Spotify is still ahead.

I can tell you that Spotify alone, for the last 9 months or so, has paid for my rent in a 2 floor coach house with garage. But what is predictably notable, is that the numbers for Spotify are growing monthly, and have actually doubled from the first month to the last while sales on other platforms remained the same.

I know, some of you are thinking “where’s Bandcamp in all of this”? I didn’t include Bandcamp because unlike all of the other services, they’re focused on integrating with their artists, rather than stuffing them into their own library. For that reason, and because of an extremely fair royalty percentage, Bandcamp remains my favorite company to do business with in this field. That being said, due to me only linking to Bandcamp on my website and often publicly suggesting to buy through them, they just now have numbers higher than iTunes in royalties. But that number is still far below Spotify’s.

Also, I should note that Pandora has never paid me a dime, and my music has been on their system since the beginning of the company. I’ll hopefully be working that out legally, but that’s a 25 page post for another day.

So what’s changed?
Well, when I compare my income from album sales and streams, Spotify seems to simply look like quite a bit of additional income. As Spotify grows quickly, my sales from other sites grow slowly, like they have since I started selling music through them. So that leads me to the conclusion that Spotify is overwhelmingly succeeding in 2 things:

1. Generating income from casual listeners or listeners who don’t have the expendable income to buy my albums. This demographic used to exist almost exclusively between Soulseek and torrent sites.

2. Rewarding artists who have re-playable albums. If someone buys my album on iTunes and listens to it every day while exercising (yeah, not likely), I get $7. If that person uses Spotify, it can accumulate to a whole lot more.

Of course I’m not discouraging people from buying albums. I still prefer the old hard drive of music, and as an old-fashioned 30-something, I probably will for a long time.

But at the end of the day, that additional income has allowed me to almost completely scale back on television composing and concentrate hard, exclusively on writing and recording new material. For the first time in my life, I’m able to be “The Flashbulb” and not have to worry about filling in the income holes to monetarily survive.
I don’t know how sustainable it is,  I’m certainly not betting on it keeping me afloat all the way to retirement.

So in regards to Spotify, as a completely independent artist who does just about everything himself, the last thing I’m doing is bitching.

R.I.P Treefield

I’ve decided that my show at the Adler Planetarium last Friday will likely be my last with the Treefield visualization system.

I figured I’d make some sort of official statement/explanation:

I spent an unfathomable amount of time designing, building, coding the thing, and way more money than ever imagined on the “research and development” of it. Was the final product worth it? Absolutely, at least in my opinion, and I tend to be at least on the top 10 list of my biggest critics.

So great, it worked out, right?
Well, not really. The one thing I completely forgot to include in my plan was that booking tours as an independent musician is already difficult and frustrating.
In April, I managed to find a total of 3 venues that could support the system. Well, on paper they could. When I showed up to the venues, it didn’t ideally fit on any of the stages. When I ask you to think of your favorite moderate sized venue, and if I ask you if the ceilings are 10ft tall above the stage, you’re answer is probably “oh yeah, easily”. Oddly, you’re probably wrong…just as I was.

Then the part I hate thinking about, money. I booked those 3 gigs as a test run before booking a much longer tour, and while getting paid fairly for most of the gigs, I lost about $2,500 simply on transporting the system and people to help me set it up (it would be impossible to setup alone in the limited load-in/soundcheck time that most venues have).

So I thought, OK, European shows seem to pay a lot better, and I’m WAY overdue for a tour overseas. But the cost of putting the entire truss system on a plane with me is thousands per trip, not to mention the increased cost and hassle of work visas.  I would essentially have to arrive to each city and rebuild it with local parts, parts that I spent hundreds of hours acquiring in the comfort of the workshop I built it in.

Finally, I’m a huge fan of touring with supporting acts, and Treefield is basically a big “fuck you” to anyone who plans on sharing the stage in the same 24 hour period.

At the end of the day, and after a lot of brainstorming, the conclusion is that I’m simply not a “big enough” act to support such an endeavor without hemorrhaging money and creating an endless headache for the promoters that have supported my live shows over the years.

Granted, it pains me and I certainly feel like it is a waste to put so much time and money into this and then just lock it in storage. But the reality for my fans is that they’ll be very unlikely to see me perform unless I go back to the way things were 2 years ago.

To those of you who got to see Treefield, I hope it was enjoyable. For now I’m putting my head back into new ways to perform that increase my showmanship and “efficiency”.  And to those of you who have booked me in the past or have tried to in 2013, my rider is going back to the half page where all I need is a sound system and some bottles of water.

Thanks and sorry.
Maybe one day I’ll find a way to make it work. :-\

Some images: http://imgur.com/a/h6LuN#0

That feeling like someone possessed you for 6 months.

There’s this weird feeling I very infrequently get, in regards to my own art, that is almost indescribable. Artistic amnesia perhaps? Let me explain:

I think I only have a handful of examples.

Réunion – After spending forever making Kirlian Selections (which could’ve been a double or triple CD had I not had to answer to a record label at the time), I was gassed out from music making. I was even more tired of computer crashes and “visually” making music.  A few days later a friend who owned an old studio was opening a new state of the art studio and offered to let me essentially live in the old studio for the summer. It had no air conditioning, and smelled of dead rats. But I had this large amount of rusty musical instruments and tape machines at my disposal. So I just sort of haphazardly went there to play around, and a month later I had another album finished. I can’t remember when or how I made most of the tracks, all I know is that the heat wave and some strange possessed motivation kept me awake through the night and morning for over half the time I was there.
In interviews when asked what my favorite album I’ve made is, I always say “Réunion”, simply because of this. It was like I blacked out, woke up, and a solid record was finished. More importantly, I couldn’t write another Réunion even if I tried.

The most recent example is Treefield. Just about a year ago, I decided to finally take a shot at making a visual experience that complimented my live performances. I started out expecting to spend a $800 on some fun toys, and within a week, I found myself looking out over a vast field of road blocks. As I anonymously talked to condescending lighting and audiovisual experts on message boards, at some point I just said “Fuck this whole stupid little industry.” and started building my own. Then boom, black out. 6 months later I’m playing test gigs with this massive 5 figure visualization system that I designed, built, programmed, and completed. Anyone who knows me well can surely attest that I was more stressed out and grumpy in that period of time than ever before.

The insanity of it all didn’t dawn on me until this week. I haven’t performed in about 6 months, and I kind of put Treefield in the back of my head. While itemizing the gear, the code, the files, the customized networking to connect everything…I felt like I was in a trite Hollywood scene where I played a rookie cop searching though the apartment of an accomplished serial killer. I was looking at technology with complete and utter confusion with how it was developed, and I’m the one who developed it…like 6 months ago.

I’m starting to realize that I should just read this blog post to a psychiatrist rather than posting it.

Regarding Treefield, I’m a little nervous, but I’m also excited because I kind of forgot that none of my friends or family here in Chicago have ever seen me perform with it. It’s my personalized magnum opus for live performances, yet I don’t feel like it’s mine at all.

Do all artists have this phenomenon? Perhaps that’s where the term “muse” originates.
I don’t know, just sharing my sleep deprived thoughts. Hope to see some of you out there on Friday night!