June 29, 2008

Defining Decisions

Posted in Life tagged , , , at 11:42 pm by Andrew McMillen

Deciding to be yourself is scary. There’s no one to follow, and well, what if they don’t like me? But if you can make that bet, the act of actually being you is easy. All you have to do is wake up in the morning.

This afternoon, I watched a tiny spider trying to climb its near-invisible silk. As far as I could tell, its intention was to climb the thread to the top and reach safety. A slight breeze affected those intentions. After battling the draft for a few minutes, the spider lost out. It landed on the ground, far from its desired destination.

You could fight the breeze your whole life. Or you could position yourself to sidestep it altogether.

Ryan wrote about defining yourself in the above quote. Glenn wrote in a comment on that entry:

People are vulnerable to the influences of others for a very specific reason; peer pressure doesn’t just strike randomly.

My message isn’t to find yourself. Or to closely monitor the crowd you’re a part of. Those are tired, common maxims.

John commented on one of my entries that social networking sites have provided an unmatched insight into their users’ psyches. Upon registering, you’re immediately presented with myriad opportunities to define yourself. Interests. Location. About you. Education and employment history.

Of course, there’s a reason why you’re presented with these options. We tend to want to place each other into distinct boxes. It’s how we make sense of the world. The conflicts begin when your definitions become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The inherent problem with defining yourself based on a handful of universal markers – birthplace, location, hobbies, dress style – is that you’re constantly open to misinterpretation. If you define yourself as an engineering student who loves to drink and party, you’re expected to adhere to those definitions at all times. Most people can’t look beyond this fundamental attribution error.

It’s hard. I loathe defining myself.  That tagline at the top of the page? It’s bullshit. So is the slightly elaborated descriptor here. Defining yourself based on a handful of interests or accomplishments marginalises the million other thoughts you have each day.

You are what you do. I disagree with that statement in the context of study or employment. You know what I mean. You’re at a party. Someone asks you what you do. What they mean, of course, is what you study. Or where you work. You respond, and a bunch of assumption seeds are planted in their head, before your eyes.

I’m not trying to pretend that I’m above any of this.

Play the game. Humour those who try to pigeonhole you. Never understate your inner values.

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June 23, 2008

Wouldn’t It Be Cool?

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , at 9:26 pm by Andrew McMillen

Ben Corman wrote an excellent follow-up to Ryan Holiday’s post about new media resumes last week. Central to Corman’s message:

Don’t be afraid to suck. Building a new media presence, writing a novel, starting a business, learning to juggle — you don’t develop any of these skills without actually doing them.

Most importantly, though:

Sucking is not the worst thing that can happen.

Last month, I wrote about luck. Last week, I found the source of the half-remembered anecdote that I mentioned in that post. I found it while re-reading Getting It Together by Noel Whittaker. He’s an acclaimed financial adviser and popular Australian author. His new media presence may be lacklustre, but the advice he offers in that book is crystal clear in its simplicity and scope. From the back cover:

Noel Whittaker came from a poor farming background to become one of Australia’s most respect financial advisors with weekly columns in most of Australia’s leading newspapers. In Getting It Together he gives young people simple techniques to discover and use their true potential.

It’s an excellent book. I intend to revisit it at least once more before year’s end. That anecdote, transcribed in full:

Haven’t you wanted top grades without doing the work, sporting honours without doing the practice, a fit body without doing the exercise? Of course you have – that’s human nature. Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, tells the story about a famous musician who was accosted by one of those social chatty women at a cocktail party. “I’d give anything to play like you,” she said. “No, you wouldn’t,” he replied. “You wouldn’t be prepared to practice for hours, to give up the social life, to exist on a pittance while you were trying to make your mark – that is what made the difference.” (Whittaker 1993, p. 42)

Success isn’t conceived overnight. Before success is born, there’s a hundred nights of failed conception attempts. Yes, I’m equating success to intercourse. Isn’t metaphor fun?

Corman concludes:

So here’s your homework assignment. Take one thing you wish you were doing that you’re not doing. Now, everyday take an hour (or maybe ten minutes) and do whatever it is. And in a year you’ll be able to look back at how much you’ve improved. Or in a year you’ll still be sitting around thinking “wouldn’t it be cool if I did _____.”

You know intuitively that it would be cool. Go and do _____.

June 22, 2008

Describing The Mars Volta

Posted in Music tagged , , at 10:00 pm by Andrew McMillen

I saw The Mars Volta perform at the Brisbane Convention Centre last night. I’d elected to review the show for FasterLouder a month ago. In the weeks leading up to the show, the enormity of my task became apparent. That is, to describe the performance of an eight-piece experimental, progressive rock band in a few hundred words.

I should point out that writing about music is not new to me. I’ve been paid to do it for a year. I’ve written about some popular international acts, both at festivals and in separate shows. Of all my writing, I’m most proud of my Laneway Festival review for FasterLouder in March 2008. A dozen acts and the vibe of the festival itself covered in 2300 words.

Last night was different. For the first time since reviewing The Drones in October 2007, I was a little afraid of the task before me. I was nervous before that show because it was my first 500 word feature review. I’d never written that much for Rave Magazine at the time, though I’d previously written 1900 words for FasterLouder when covering Pig City in July 2007. In retrospect, my trepidation before The Drones was entirely baseless.

Returning to The Mars Volta. I’d been aware of them for several years and made a few attempts to dig their style, but only made a concerted effort in late 2007 when it dawned on me that Relationship Of Command by At The Drive-In might just be my favourite album. The creative brains of At The Drive-In, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, formed what is now known as The Mars Volta following the demise of ATDI in 2001.

Their reputation precedes them. They are well-known for their explosive and lengthy shows comprised largely of improvisational jam sessions. Their music is rooted in progressive rock with elements of jazz and funk, though it is difficult (and erroneous) to pin them to any specific genre.

I sat watching them for two and a half hours, almost entirely transfixed on the band. I took no notes. I went out after the show, but my mind was filled with the sounds and images of their performance even when I awoke the next morning.

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Someone once said that – probably not Elvis Costello, though it’s generally attributed to him.

I’m well aware of the responsibility that a music reviewer has when describing a concert. I’m well aware that this responsibility is very often tied to appearing pretentious. The opportunity to embody a voice who is (often) perceived as an authoritative figure within the music industry – that is, a critic – is not, and will never be lost on me.

I value the opportunity to critically reflect on the music of bands just as much as I value the perks. I don’t have to pay for shows. But I’m responsible for the words that appear above my name. I always endeavour to write what I would like to read as a music fan. I am my own quality control. I can’t submit poor copy because I won’t let me.

I struggled with the task before me today. It took 800 words and several hours for me to describe The Mars Volta in the live environment. References to the crowd and myself were minimal because neither of those responses mattered during this show. It was entirely about the music they created on stage. That we were present to witness their creation was something of a happy coincidence.

Okay, that previous statement was entirely bullshit. I jest, I jest. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that they’re people who like to get paid, just like the rest of us.

Anyway, I’d like to think that I painted an interesting picture, but the brush is now out of my hands.

So, how did I do?

June 15, 2008

What I’ve Learned

Posted in Life tagged , , at 2:48 pm by Andrew McMillen

Accept personal accountability for every action that you take. Realise that you alone control your actions. To let any external factor dictate what you say or do is to cede control.

Stasis is a dangerous state of being – a thousand times moreso for the young and unestablished. Be wary of those who are comfortable at a standstill. Adapt, adapt, adapt.

Disdain what you cannot have. Greene wrote that ignoring these things is the best revenge. Look to the past: not to remember past hurts or bear grudges, but to examine and learn from the mistakes you have made. Do not dwell on those who have passed you by. Treat their choice as an opportunity to improve yourself for the next candidate.

Create value. Build a new media presence.

W.C. Fields advised to never trust a man who doesn’t drink. Conversely, be wary of those who regularly drink to excess without concern for the consequences of their actions, both personal and interpersonal. The regular abuse of alcohol is nothing more than a mechanism for ceding control of one’s accountability. Recognise that their choice is indicative of greater inner issues, and walk away.

Create dialogues. It’s easy to contact almost anyone online. Use this to your advantage.

Read. There is no new problem you can have that someone hasn’t already solved and wrote about in a book. Furthermore, the web has allowed an incredible amount of voices to emerge. Once you’ve sifted through the garbage, follow those whose voices speak to you.

Write. If only for yourself. Keep a private blog and aim to write in it most days. If you haven’t already discovered the manner in which transcribing your thoughts allows you to view an issue with renewed clarity, you’ll be amazed. I can’t wait to look back at my private journal in ten years’ time. Hell, Ryan wrote that in six months’ time I’ll have discarded most of what I claim is important now. Through reading my archives, I’ve found that two months has been a consistent timeframe in which I’ve noticed enormous shifts in personal values.

Listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Don’t interrupt. If most people are happy to fill a conversation with their words, indulge them.

Communication is key. In a knowledge economy, income disparity exists primarily between those who can and cannot communicate. Read. Write. Learn to express your ideas clearly and succinctly. Communication is key.

June 14, 2008

Zoo Photography Fallout

Posted in Music tagged , , , at 8:47 pm by Andrew McMillen

My previous post provoked some passionate and interesting discussion within the national music community. My FasterLouder editor Liam McGinniss posted a news article on the site and kicked off a thread on the FL forums. I engaged with the conversation throughout Thursday before deciding to notify Birds Of Tokyo, and The Zoo’s management. The latter was the first to reply:

hi joc here from the Zoo –

just writing in response to the camera regulations and all of the posts – as we have stated on the website and mail out’s since bringing the policy in –

Please do not record the event unless you have gained permission from the venue and the performing act themselves, this also applies to patron crowd shots as well.

If you are interested in taking photo’s you are able to email the Zoo and ask permission to take shots as a number of people have done since this new policy has come into play. We then forward each request to the management / agent and it is then up to each act if they want their photo’s taken.

It is a lot more work for The Zoo but we are then trying to ensure that each act’s privacy and wish is taken into account not just assuming they are ok with people taking shots. It is each individual’s right to have or not have their photo taken – and i don’t think they should be thought of in a less than favourable light if that is their attitude to this matter. We have in the past been less strict on this matter and their were recent events that made us review the policy but we are walking along a new path for the Zoo and one we are trying to handle with our normal integrity and trying to consider all involved.

I am sure other venues would just say – no camera’s and that is it. They wouldn’t have the headache’s in trying to make a system fair for all. So please consider that when people are very rude and not understanding.

all the best

Joc Curran
Owner/Manager
The Zoo

Birds Of Tokyo guitarist Adam Spark replied later that day:

hey fella,
cheers for the message…thats all interesting news to us!! heh…
we didnt threaten legal anything…weird…our manager just asked some kid to take off the new tracks from you tube, which most of my friends bands do also…
but as far as all that stuff goes with the zoo….nothing to do with us mate…there is alot of misinformation on there i think!! we love people taking photos and film away!! just dont post up the new material just before new material is coming out…i dont think thats unfair? we just want people to hear our new material in its best form, after all we pay alot of money for people to make us sound good!! haha
other than that….post everything up on the net! fine with us!

cheers for the insight tho sir!! and yes i remember that off kilter solo! heheh pretty close!!
cheers.
adam s.

It’s heartening that both parties were quick to respond, though both clearly dodged some issues. Transparency would be ideal, but impossible when both parties have interests to protect.

Joc isn’t wrong about the headaches that these new regulations have caused. Theoretically, they’ll have to respond to several hundred photography requests from concert attendees every week. Realistically, though, as the word spreads and cameras are confiscated for the duration of the night, punters will simply stop bringing their cameras to shows at The Zoo. Few will bother to email requests beforehand.

This outcome might be ideal for the handful of professional photographers who frequent the venue each week – that is, less amateur point-and-click photographers to contend with up front – but on the whole, the music community loses.

You know those guys who stand and film a show before uploading it to YouTube? They won’t be at the Zoo anymore. I’ve been in contact with one, and he’s told me as much. Fans of bands who play at the venue – both local and international – are the losers in this situation, as footage of their Zoo performances will dwindle and soon die off.

FasterLouder forum user Demosthenes wrote:

It’s more than the Tivoli or the Arena do for punters. And if you sent such a request to the Entertainment Centre or the Convention Centre it’d probably disappear into a black hole.

User Bananaphone wrote:

…going to see a gig is a night out. People at the Zoo take snaps of themselves and their friends just as much as they do the band!

While I’ve navigated this discussion without appearing to be an alarmist (hopefully), I think that these regulations will have a negative effect on the Brisbane music scene. It mightn’t be immediately noticeable; hell, in all likelihood, we’ll soon have accepted the rules as the norm and forgotten the issue, as is often the case with cultural change. After a brief period of protest, change is assimilated.

It’s a shame, but it’s reality.

June 11, 2008

Camera-Shy Birds Of Tokyo

Posted in Music tagged , , , , at 11:38 pm by Andrew McMillen

While lining up to attend a show at my favourite Brisbane live music venue last night, I was confronted with some new and conspicuous signage. I’d seen the update on The Zoo’s site last week, but it’d slipped my mind until I re-read in person:

Dear Zoo Patrons,

No recording or photographic equipment is allowed to be brought into the Zoo.

Please do not record the event unless you have gained permission from the venue and the performing act themselves, this also applies to patron crowd shots as well.

Anyone caught doing so, with out pre arranged consent will have their gear confiscated until the end of the night.

Thank you in advance for your understanding on this issue.

All the best,
The Zoo.

Curious. Upon questioning those who knew, it appears that these restrictions are the result of a Birds Of Tokyo show in late May.

The band played some new material to a sold-out crowd. Several among the audience decided to film these songs – in “high quality”, so I’m told – and upload the footage to YouTube. The band, who have a new album due later this year, responded by threatening legal action lest The Zoo instate and enforce the camera restrictions for future shows. The videos in question have been removed from YouTube.

Let’s examine the facts, and assume that the videos were uploaded by a single party:
  1. This person paid to buy a ticket to watch Birds Of Tokyo; therefore,
  2. It’s reasonable to assume that they’re a Birds Of Tokyo fan.
  3. This fan wanted to share new Birds Of Tokyo material with other Birds Of Tokyo fans throughout the world; the easiest way to do that was to:
  4. Upload Birds Of Tokyo footage to YouTube.

I don’t think that I need to point out the inherent stupidity in demanding rules be put in place after the act occurred and the band had left the venue. I’d be surprised if The Zoo had anything further to do with Birds Of Tokyo.

An ostensibly friendly action by a Birds Of Tokyo fan has caused wider ramifications upon the Brisbane music scene – specifically, by scaring The Zoo into changing their conditions of entry, which have long been casual and reasonable, much like the venue’s staff.

Why did this happen? Because Birds Of Tokyo are apparently more concerned with shielding their precious new material than encouraging their dedicated fanbase to continue doing what they will always attempt to do – that is, share with fellow fans.

This is an awful strategic decision on Birds of Tokyo’s behalf. It seems that they’ve forgotten that sharing is the essence of being a music fan. Though, bear in mind that I’m taking this hearsay on face value – it could have been a decision made by their record label, their management, or I could be entirely wrong.

National fame and notoriety. Sold-out Australian tours. A Triple J Hottest 100 placing. 10,151 MySpace friends. Why the fuck should Birds Of Tokyo care if a fan uploads a couple of bootleg, unreleased songs online and a couple of thousand people check it out?

Their complete failure to view this occurrence as anything other than an act of positive word-of-mouth marketing from the most influential sector of their community – an actual goddamn Birds Of Tokyo fan – astounds and angers me. It’s irrevocably warped my already-dwindling perception of the band.

This is the price you pay for attempting to control the actions of your fanbase. This is a glaring example of failing to consider an issue in whole before acting.

Thanks for fucking up sixteen years of amicable amateur photography at The Zoo, Birds Of Tokyo.

EDIT 12/06/08 – A discussion about this topic is taking place on the FasterLouder forum.

June 9, 2008

Rock And Roll

Posted in Music tagged , at 4:28 pm by Andrew McMillen

As an ardent fan of rock music far above any other genre, these videos send shivers up and down my spine and bring tears to my eyes.

Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin playing Rock And Roll and Ramble On with Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters at their Wembley show on June 7.

Monumental. I can’t imagine the elation Grohl (and, to a lesser extent, Hawkins) was feeling at the time. Onstage with two living legends. Idols. Grohl has been one of the most vocal proponents of a worldwide Zeppelin reunion tour. He put his hand up to drum for them if that tour was to take place.

It looks like it’s going to.

Led Zep guitar legend Jimmy Page has confirmed that there will be more Zeppelin shows… Page suggested that the Led Zeppelin tour won’t happen until the second half of 2009.

It’s the news that we’ve been waiting for since the initial reformation last December.

Returning to the videos linked – the best available at the time of writing, though superior versions will surely appear: Hawkins performed admirably. He’s got a deeper voice than Plant, but he pulled off those distinctive wails. Grohl was less appropriate as a vocalist – he was understandably emotional and got carried away with his signature growls – but I don’t blame the guy one bit.

He got to play drums and sing before 86,000 people with half of the greatest rock band the world has seen.

That’s beyond cool, or any other adjective.

June 8, 2008

Always-On

Posted in Web tagged , , , , at 12:30 am by Andrew McMillen

Seth describes a world whose eyes and ears are synchronised via technology:

So, very soon, you will own a cell phone that has a very good camera and knows where you are within ten or fifteen feet. And the web will know who you are and who your friends are…. This is going to happen. The only question is whether you are one of the people who will make it happen. I guess there’s an even bigger question: will we do it right?

Complete connectivity is difficult to imagine. I understand the principles of the notion, but my thoughts remain firmly grounded by its logistics.

Speaking locally, the biggest barrier to overcome when discussing an always-on world is the price of data transmission.

I can’t see this barrier being lowered in the near future. It’s unfortunate. Australia has always been behind in terms of broadband cost and speed. ISP policy has traditionally placed harsh restrictions on bandwidth, too.

The effect that these data limitations have had on Australia’s web economy are obvious. It’s frustrating to read about US-based technological advancements while using an internet infrastructure that’s at least five years behind.

Phone-streaming services like Qik are financially unfeasible in the current data climate. My recent research into internet plans for a phone upgrade confirms this. Until the price of data transmission lowers, there’s little point in such an investment. The always-on notion is admirable, but out of Australian grasp for the foreseeable future.

June 7, 2008

Openness

Posted in Web tagged , , , at 10:15 pm by Andrew McMillen

While writing about the new architecture of news, I came across Upendra Shardanand’s blog.

I found his writing on the subject enlightening and enjoyable. I went to subscribe, but there was no subscribe link.

I went to email him about this omission, but there was no content in his about section.

His blog linked to his Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, though. The latter reveals that he’s worked for AOL Time Warner and Microsoft. He’s the founder and CEO of Daylife.

My initial goal was to subscribe to his blog. Though he didn’t assist with this process, my goal was easily achieved through manual entry into my reader. That’s not my point.

If you’ve got a captive and willing audience, why make them jump through a bunch of hoops to achieve their desired outcome?

Conversation and interaction are achieved through making these two outcomes easily achievable by your audience. I desire both, which is why my contact details and subscription link are immediately visible to visitors.

Of course, Upendra might have chosen to omit these outcomes. If that’s the case, I’d like to know why he’s opposed to openness.

The New Architecture Of News

Posted in Web tagged , , at 9:41 pm by Andrew McMillen

Jeff Jarvis writes about the idea of link layers within news stories, based upon blog etiquette:

…a new Golden Rule of Links in journalism — link unto others’ good stuff as you would have them link unto your good stuff.

I check ABC News often, wherever I am online. I consider their reporting the most credible and objective of the mainstream Australian news media. They tend to cut the bullshit and get to the heart of the matter succinctly. Few words are wasted.

It’s foolish to imagine that all of their reporters investigate and write original copy, though.

The only barriers between the present situation and superior navigation to news are habit and an unwillingness to adapt.

I’d happily embrace in-text linking to external sources. If news companies think that this would look tacky, they’re wrong. A link would save me the inevitable ctrl+T; ctrl+E; enter query. Furthermore, it’d show respect for their news-consuming audience.

To pretend that your news organisation is the sole carrier of a story is more than deceptive – it’s disrespectful to the intelligence of web users. The goal of web-based news services isn’t – well, shouldn’t be – to keep the user on their site. Initial content should provide a brief overview of the news story. Links should propel the user further down the rabbit hole of knowledge, if they so desire.

In an attention economy, taking my attention is stealing my money. That message, taken from a Bubblegeneration comment, is worth remembering.

When discussing online news, Jarvis is authoritative:

Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.

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