You Shouldn't Need An Excuse For Having Fun & Creating Something

from the creating-stuff dept

There’s a music conference going on in Boston tomorrow called Rethink Music, which has received some attention because a group of the content creators attending — Ben Folds, Amanda Palmer, Damian Kulash and Neil Gaiman — have decided to spend the latter part of today writing, recording and releasing an eight-song album. When I heard about it, I thought it sounded like a fun project, from a group of very creative folks, all of whom are known for their many, many examples of experimenting widely with different ideas when it comes to creating, promoting and releasing content. A collaboration of all of them together as a fun experiment? Why not?

However, some apparently found it offensive. Jeremy Schlosberg wrote a post for Hypebot complaining that we’re facing the “tyranny of novelty,” in that in today’s digital music environment, there’s more of a focus on doing something new, rather than doing something good:

We have succumbed to the tyranny of novelty, and music will take a beating until we wake up from this collective trance in which we?re all only chasing the newest, “nowest” thing, in which the only values we can agree upon are buzz generation and viral success. In this environment, a unique real-time experience is worth paying for simply because it is a unique real-time experience.

Amanda Palmer has posted a good response to this, in which she notes that this just seemed like a much more fruitful way to spend today rather than the typical night-before-a-conference get together in which there’s a dinner and speakers all sit around and chat (which, can actually be fun in its own way — but perhaps not as productive):

we’re doing this for one main reason: because we’re all going to be in the same place at the same time and we couldn’t bear the thought of just sitting at a panel table, discussing the internet and not actually taking advantage of the time and the resources to MAKE SOMETHING. we, all four of us, are artists who LIKE MAKING SHIT.

we could have met up the night before our panel, caught a few of the other talks, got drinks together, attended the speakers dinner at the conference, chatted about our careers, had a nice leisurely dinner with each other, and said goodnight-i’ll see-you-at-the-panel-in-the-morning.

that would have easily taken 8 hours.

instead, we’re doing none of that and we’re going to lock ourselves in a studio and make something together. WE decided to do this, nobody asked us to.

It’s also worth noting that the four of them are connected in various ways (mainly via Amanda). Neil, obviously, is married to Amanda. Ben produced one of her albums. And Damian and Amanda have performed together.

I had three separate, but distinct, reactions to the whole kerfuffle:

  1. I think Schlosberg has set up a false dilemma here in thinking that the “tyranny of novelty” is somehow new or being driven more by the way things are in this digital age. He does admit that it’s always been a part of the music industry, but I think he’s overreacting somewhat in thinking that this means that great music isn’t also being produced. Admittedly, there was some extra hype in the press release about how this little experiment shows how the music industry is changing, but we should all know better than to key in on a throwaway hype line in a press release.
  2. Some of the discussion goes back to the same old question of the magic bullet. People want to find out what is the answer to the struggles the recording industry has had, and they want to assign way too much credibility to a key example or event, rather than recognizing that while you can pull lessons from all sorts of experiments, there is no magic bullet. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from each experiment and pull out interesting lessons and see where they can be applied. It just means there’s no universal “this is how it’s done.”
  3. Finally, it seems sort of silly that anyone should have to defend getting together with some other creative friends to create some content, in the name of “but that content creation strategy is a gimmick.” Let them create and stop worrying about it. In a time when people keep telling us that there are fewer and fewer incentives to create (not that I believe that), shouldn’t we be cheering on a bunch of folks who get together and say “let’s make something, just for the fun of it!”?

I have no idea if what comes out of this experiment will be good. I don’t think it defines “the future of the music business.” I just think it’s yet another cool experiment. Part of the nature of experiments is that sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t — but you can learn from both situations just the same.

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Comments on “You Shouldn't Need An Excuse For Having Fun & Creating Something”

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Pickle Monger (profile) says:

Novel theory? Think not.... (plus a typo)

First of all, it’s Jeremy Schlosberg – not Scholsberg. And second, what kind of human being somehow finds a way to look down upon people who want to create art?????????

Now onto my main point… Billboard magazine has been publishing music rankings since 1936. The songs that are most popular are usually relatively new. So if one were to even accept the existence of that “tyranny of novelty”, then we have succumbed to it so very long ago. Perhaps even before Mr. Schlosberg was born.

Huph says:

Re: Re: Re: Novel theory? Think not.... (plus a typo)

The idea of Mozart as playboy who didn’t work hard at his craft has been debunked time and time again. It certainly made for an interesting film (Amadeus), but that film was in no way accurate. (Case in point: Salieri was very well respected) Even ‘The Simpsons’ has gone on record debunking the “lazy Mozart” myth.

Mozart worked very hard on his music. He schooled into his adulthood. He was a master craftsman and a very devoted student of music theory even when he was rewriting the book on it. He was maddeningly dedicated.

And also remember, Mozart was buried in an unmarked mass grave as pauper dead from an still unknown disease. It was not a glorious ending for the man. I don’t wish that end for any artist.

AG Wright (profile) says:

Making music

I’ve been making music for over 40 yrs. and I can say that it is universally fun to get together with talented people and make music.
It can be pulling out an old chestnut like “Life is Like A Mountain Railway” or making up something new. Either way it can be “new”.
Those particular creative people will never be together at this place in their lives. Whatever they decide to record will be different than they would have played at any other time in their lives. Thus it will be new.

Anonymous Coward says:

When you demonize record labels, and expect all artists to promote themselves and run their own business, then the focus does have to be on the internet and crap, not actually making music. Conferences have to focus on non-music aspects to be helpful, because that’s what people REALLY have trouble with, the business, not the music. Everyone likes to “make shit”, that’s easy. The problem is being successful at SELLING that shit.

Kaden (profile) says:

“And what is recorded music? Music that has been thoughtfully written and crafted into a purposefully created finished form over the course of weeks or months.”

In reality, recorded music is what happens when music is being played, and you press the big red button.

Either way, sometimes it’s a near mystical experience, other times it’s like sticking your head into a boiling chip vat.

Always has been.

Huph (user link) says:

Re: Re:

In reality, recorded music is what happens when music is being played, and you press the big red button.

Said the man who has obviously never been in a recording studio. It’s this simplistic attitude toward the recording process that drives me mad. Recording music is a specialty unto itself, and that’s something that technology will never change. The physics of sound are complicated, no amount of digital technology will change the fluid dynamics of interacting instruments, and capturing a performance in a realistic manner is hard. Just ask any number of kids recently graduated from recording schools who are now over 50K in debt.

Hell, I was in a band recording a professionally produced album back in 2000 and we spent 8 hours *on mic positions* alone. That was for an Americana band to sound ‘rustic’. A typical timeframe even today. Keep in mind, this was all self-funded (not by me) so there was no “dirty label” accounting going on.

Do you think that movies are made just by pointing a camera at something?

Do you think books are written in one draft like a diary entry?

Do you think that painters just start slopping paint onto a canvas?

Why do you suspect that music is so much simpler than these things? Why do you think recording costs so much? Catering? Drugs?

Soundy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Chill dude...

Said the man who has obviously never been in a recording studio.

Err… confirmed by this man who has.

Yes, I’ve spent many many long hours placing mics, tweaking EQ and compression, placing sound barriers and absorptive panels, running rest tracks, setting headphone levels, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

I’ve also put a mic in the middle of a circle of musicians and just let them play, capturing the sound of the environment as well as the instruments. Little more to it than just pressing the big red button.

Why does it HAVE to be so complicated?

Kaden (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Been in many, many recording studios, thanks. Even O/O’d a 16 track analog house in the ’80’s.

Sorry to hear you recorded with a lousy engineer… they must have seen you coming.

Recording music is as difficult as you choose to make it. There have been *magnificent* recordings made with a binaural head and an A77 in a nice room with good musicians.

Regardless of the time and equipment involved in preparing for the process, recorded music happens when you press the big red button and play music.

Fetishizing the recording process is as senseless as fetishizing songwriting.

Huph (user link) says:

Re: Re:

this is is a jam session that they happen to be releasing…

… with a PR campaign behind it.

… that they are selling.

… recorded in a professional studio.

… that they are touting as some sort “fuck you” to the industry.

… that they are saying proves labels are unnecessary (wish I could get some of that free studio space and free recording engineers, and mix engineer, and mastering engineer that makes the labels so obsolete)

Yeah! Sounds just like your average musicians jam session!

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Oh good god...

I have nothing against the idea of unique real-time experiences, except, maybe, when they have shoved the possibility of thoughtful, purposeful creation off the stage entirely.

Without even a little pretense left that we are interested in quality or have any intention of paying for it, musicians are free to seek attention for the sake of seeking attention, and prop the mechanism up with all the perpetual novelty they or their publicists can conjure.

But I would also much rather pay for the output of an artist who has thought long and hard about his or her art and can offer an end product enlivened by quality and care, heart and soul, than for the titillation of one passing moment in time, however unique, however novel.

Wow. A few hours with Schlosberg sounds about as much fun as an intervention held in a smallpox quarantine. So, if someone bangs out an album in 8 hours, it has no artistic value whatsoever. Only albums that spring from years and years of “artistic” handwringing are worth tilting your ear towards like, say, “Chinese Democracy”?

Raise your hands if you’ve ever banged out a few hundred words because the inspiration hit you right then and there? Is whatever you’ve written without merit because you didn’t spend several hours agonizing over the content?

Grouchy bastards like this that hate the efforts of others because they think there wasn’t enough effot make me grouchy. It’s the same braindead elitism that makes people hate remixes, mashups (“That’s just using other people’s stuff”), blogging and self-publishing (“Real writers don’t need to do either.”).

At some point these people designated themselves as “tastemakers” and they’re just as qualified as any Nimrod with a dogeared Bible and headful of bad ideas who has just annointed themselves a “spokesperson” for God.

There’s a big difference between saying, “This tune is pretty cool. Check it out.” and saying, “That’s not real music. I know these things.”

One is making a suggestion. The other is ending the argument before it even starts based on some sort of self-appraised “gold standard.”

Mr. Schlosberg: who the HELL do you think you are?

Huph (user link) says:

Re: Re: Oh good god...

Oh please, all of you can get right the fuck over yourselves. Schlosberg has been running an excellent site for 8 years, and has dedicated himself to exposing new talent. He’s offered a bevy of legal downloads from unknown artists, curates playlists constantly, and writes some of the most elegant essays on music you can find on the internet.

Please, all of you point me to your essays on music…

Soundy (profile) says:

@Lion Tamer

So, if someone bangs out an album in 8 hours, it has no artistic value whatsoever. Only albums that spring from years and years of “artistic” handwringing are worth tilting your ear towards like, say, “Chinese Democracy”?

Bang on!

Some of the best-loved songs ever written were spur-of-the-moment, dashed-off-on-a-napkin, nothing-but-the-emotion classics.

I’ll see your “Chinese Democracy” and raise you “Paranoid”.

Anonymous Coward says:

“We have succumbed to the tyranny of novelty, and music will take a beating until we wake up from this collective trance in which we?re all only chasing the newest, “nowest” thing, in which the only values we can agree upon are buzz generation and viral success. In this environment, a unique real-time experience is worth paying for simply because it is a unique real-time experience. “

This is nothing new. People get bored of old stuff. Most people don’t want to spend all their time watching the same movie over and over. They don’t want to watch different movies about the same things over and over. People want change. Trends are always changing. Styles always change. It’s always been that way and it will continue to be that way. People get bored with the old so you have to create something new.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Some of the discussion goes back to the same old question of the magic bullet.”

For big corporations this magic bullet is a government imposed monopoly. and, by and large, outside the Internet, that’s what they have (and, other than the competition that the Internet now provides, it works. and in other industries, like the taxi cab industry among the many others, it works). Big corporations have a govt imposed monopoly on both content (and information) distribution (broadcasting and cableco monopolies) and on content. This allows them to make money for doing little work and for innovating little. Now that’s tyranny.

Jay (profile) says:

An aside

This story has applications in other fields.

Observe the Portal 2 release.

You had 13 different developers creating content for a game to be released. I must admit, the special challenges were pretty fun and I had a blast being a part of the potato race. All of it was relevant to the game and there was little little to think about in regards to IP issues.

Was it fun for developers?
Was it fun for consumers (who bought new games and tried everything?)
Was it fun overall?

Those are more fun than just going through the same motions or “release game, play game, wait for sequel” all of the time.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I never realized that I have “succumbed to the tyranny of novelty.” Every day, I write short comments on blog posts hoping to add to the conversation by bringing in a new idea. Every day, I write little bits and pieces of new software that hopefully will help me solve a new problem. I even once went to a hackathon (which should be renamed a “tyranny event” I guess) where several of us attempted to add new features to a variety of humanitarian open source projects. What I had not realized is that while I thought I was spending time enjoying myself and doing things I love, I was actually the victim of a tyranny and I was deeply distraught. From now on, I will only regurgitate ideas that others have brought up before me. I will refuse to write code that does something that has never been done before. I will make a stand and never again will I ever do something new!

Huph (user link) says:

Re: Re:

What are you talking about? No one’s knocking on small scale contributions. No one’s knocking on simple songs.

If you read the original essay, you’ll see that the main complaint is that we, the internet at least, has become far more obsessed with the novelty of the story behind music than we actually care about the music itself.

Amanda Palmer is a great example of this: for every post about her (and TD has done a lot) and every little bit of championing of her business model, I’ve never heard one writer actually express an interest in her music. Ever. (Except for Schlosberg, actually, who does like her music) It’s always about the model. It’s novelty. It’s useless, from a cultural aspect. We’re fetishizing distribution models, when we should be listening to the music. The manner in which a song is released has little bearing on the artistic validity of the work.

So here we have people more concerned with the novelty of writing, recording, mixing, mastering, and releasing an album in 8 hours, instead of being concerned about how good the artistic output would be. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a one-off novelty sprint for a recording, but for everyone who thinks bringing these minds together is a great idea: Wouldn’t you prefer it if they, you know, actually put a lot of effort into collaborating? Instead of hyping it?

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