July 29, 2008

Affluenza

Posted in Life tagged , , at 11:50 pm by Andrew McMillen

Umair‘s article got me thinking.

We’re not just addicted to cheap oil, as Tom Friedman and Al Gore have eloquently argued. There’s a deeper economic truth at work here.

We’re addicted to consumption.

My mind is drawn to a book that I read in 2006 named Affluenza, by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss. The authors posit that increasing rates of stress, depression, and obesity directly correlate to the “consumption binge” that many Australians happily indulge in.

Umair continues:

It’s not just cheap oil we’re addicted to: it’s cheap everything. And the world we’re entering isn’t really of Peak Oil as it is one of Peak Consumption.

[Do we] continue to hawk stuff that “satisfies” largely artificial needs? Or does [we] choose to do something authentic, meaningful, and purposive – something that makes us all radically better off than we were before?

Affluenza is by no means a new concept. Conscious or not, much of the Western world is afflicted. Success measured by financial success and material possessions. This is life as many of us know it. And it’s fucking sad.

From a business perspective, it’s a matter of considering the short-term gratification against the long-term gain. Umair uses an example:

Do we need razors with ten blades – or a single blade that never dulls?

This discussion is centred around strategic mobility. If you’ve built your business on disposable razor blades – if thousands of employees rely on your product to support themselves and, in turn, your business – it’s a huge deal to turn the ship around. To refocus your business objectives. To diversify, collaborate and reinvent. To acknowledge that although you’re satisfying a perceived need in the marketplace, maybe things could be done better.

This is not an easy conversation to have. Businesses like our figurative disposable razor blade manufacturer – they’re established. Their ship slowly and steadily sails across the economy’s surface, satisfying a perceived need in the marketplace. Hands over eyes. Asleep at the wheel. Sailing blind, and too myopic (or unwilling) to divert the course of their impending – inevitable – wreckage.

Though I’d like to think that I’m a conscientious consumer, I cringe a little when considering my weekly waste output. Torn packaging. Empty bottles. Spoiled food. Though my expenditure is more often invested in knowledge and self-improvement than petty, depreciating assets, I acknowledge that, again, turning the ship around isn’t easy.

I just bid on a copy of Affluenza on eBay, and I expect to write about the subject more in the future.

Isn’t that funny, though? I’m paying someone else for the knowledge that they’ve consumed and deemed unworthy of possession. That knowledge will arrive in recyclable packaging, which I’ll discard. Once I’ve consumed the knowledge, I’ll likely pass it onto a friend.

And so the cycle continues.

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July 27, 2008

Effective Music Marketing: Cold War Kids

Posted in Music tagged , at 2:02 pm by Andrew McMillen

Cold War Kids are releasing a new album in September. They’ve offered an MP3 of the song Something Is Not Right With Me for free on their website.

No catch. No personal details required. No mailing list opt-in. Just a song, for free.

I’ve already discussed Trent Reznor’s effective marketing for the most recent Nine Inch Nails material. This is a little different – a song, not a whole album – but the concept remains largely similar. It’s another instance of creative artists choosing to control the delivery of their music to their fans.

I downloaded the song, of course, and listened a couple of times. It’s not a great song, but still, I took the time to listen. My interest in their new album has increased as a result of the free offering. Logically, if they’re prepared to release this song at no cost, they’re saving stronger songs for the album release. Right?

Moreover, this is an example of effective music marketing because I was directed to the band’s website, and stuck around for a while.

They’ve got a pretty cool video introduction for their new album. It’s a shame that the user interface is lacking: high definition video is nice, but my connection couldn’t keep up the first time I viewed it. Jagged playback without on-screen video controls? By assuming that their audience all have high-speed connections, they’ve effectively – and perhaps, unconsciously – segmented their market. If the video runs shittily, the user isn’t going to stick around for long.

Regardless, I judge the free download concept as a success. They captured my attention for a few minutes. I listened to their creative output. And as an artist, isn’t that their primary goal? To achieve maximum exposure and visibility?

I generally don’t visit band websites. It just doesn’t cross my mind. I listen to music I like, and if I want to know more about an artist, I’ll check Wikipedia or their MySpace page. That’s it. All of these bands – some of my favourite artists – have websites that I’ve never seen. I assume that in many cases, the band’s record company outsources the build and development of a website for tens of thousands of dollars. And unless there’s a significant incentive – in this case, a free download – I’ll never visit the site.

This makes for an interesting marketing dilemma. How do you capture the attention of a user who rarely voluntarily visits band websites? I’ve already answered that question within this post. That I’m taking the time to discuss the band, their music, and their website suggests that this marketing campaign has been a success.

July 25, 2008

Head Down

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , at 12:00 am by Andrew McMillen

There’s a point in your life when you realise exactly what matters to you. It doesn’t have to be a poetic Fight Club moment. It could be a slow-moving process where you get so caught up in your life’s inertia that you stop to take stock, and notice everything that you’ve left behind.

I’ve lived the latter of the two. I’m not quite running lean, but I’ve been subconsciously drifting in that direction.

The things and people that don’t matter just fade into the background, into the distance as you keep moving. They’re far behind, now, and still caught up in their incessant bickering about endless trivialities. Caught up in the minutiae of life.

Glenn‘s eighteenth birthday post made me stop and smile. Such optimism and enthusiasm for what’s ahead.

I can’t pretend that any of the things that concerned me when I turned eighteen were anywhere near as important as the concepts and possibilities that Glenn is currently juggling. I was writing, sure, but without a purpose or an audience.

Girls. Drinking. The opinions of my peers. These are the things that concerned me at age eighteen. As much as I wish that I’d been grappling with notions of personal accountability or building self-value – I wasn’t.

Realising that you’ve got to put your head down and just go for it – that’s an important point to reach.

Stating that ‘nothing else matters’ is over-simplifying a little, but hell, you’re in control. It’s the difference between crawling, or choosing to stand up and walk.

July 10, 2008

Know

Posted in Life tagged , , , at 11:15 pm by Andrew McMillen

I don’t know much. But I’m not comfortable with that. Which is why I endeavour to know more every day.

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing if you’re honest with yourself and others. Not knowing should not cause embarrassment. Not knowing should be reframed as an opportunity to learn a new skill or new information.

Before this week, I didn’t know Metcalfe’s Law. I didn’t know the capital of Uruguay. I didn’t know about petabytes.

Not knowing can be difficult. I know. Difficulty becomes problematic when a paralysing fear of new information takes hold and you resign yourself to not knowing. You’re caught within your own self-concept loop.

Picture a fruit tree. Imagine the fruit as knowledge. There’s ten thousand low hanging fruit that just about anyone can reach. They taste fine. You can easily survive on eating them for the rest of your life. Many do.

But just out of reach are countless, considerably more fulfilling fruit. With a little extra effort and determination, you can climb the tree and feast on tastier knowledge. This is easier than ever before.

Knowing can be dangerous. A voracious desire to know can intimidate those who are comfortable with not knowing.

The Bayesian notion suggests that we should constantly examine our circumstance and direction against new information. I’m reminded of John Boyd’s OODA Loop.

Observe. Orient. Decide. Act. If you don’t want to know more, enjoy those low-hanging fruit.

July 9, 2008

Interview: Lochlan Watt of Monolith Touring

Posted in Music tagged , , at 11:07 pm by Andrew McMillen

“If there could ever be an official soundtrack to space travel, Rosetta would surely be one of the strongest contenders.”

In June 2008, Philadelphia art-metal band Rosetta engaged in their first international tour along the east coast of Australia. Central to the conceptualisation and co-ordination of this tour was Lochlan Watt, a 20-year old Brisbane resident who created his own music promotion company, Monolith Touring, for the purposes of the venture. In addition to Lochlan’s role as tour manager, he supported each of Rosetta’s nine shows as vocalist and drummer of The Surrogate. Lochlan kindly answered my questions regarding independent band promotion, online interactivity and the future of Monolith Touring.

How did you come into contact with Rosetta?

MySpace. The first contact I had with the band was in 2006 when I interviewed them for a piece in Death Before Dishonour Magazine. I’d stayed in touch from there on with the odd comment or message through said networking website. When I became inspired to book the tour I simply sent them another message and it progressed to email and all went from there.

The concept of a tour born from the convergence of a fan’s dedication and new media interactivity is new to me, though I’d hazard a guess and suggest that you aren’t the first to have traveled this path. Had you read or heard of any similar occurrences in the music world before becoming ‘inspired to book the tour’, as you said, or was this a genuinely organic concept that occurred to you in the middle of your hundredth Wake/Lift listen?

I had been considering the thought for a while, but the solid idea came from a conversation with a workmate who is also a promoter. He was telling me about how back in the day he tried to bring Converge out and all this other stuff, and how a whole bunch of his friends brought bands out only to lose money. We talked about the ups and downs, and how it would be so much more feasible to bring smaller bands out if they paid for the flights etc. I went home, messaged Rosetta, came back to work the next day and told him that they were indeed going to pay for their flights.

I understand you’re experienced in booking and promoting bands at Rosie’s in Brisbane. Was it difficult to book venues south of the border?

In some cities the venues were booked after one email, but for others it took me time to find venues that would even reply to my emails or what not. I started booking the tour in November 07 and some venues denied booking anything in until the start of 08. I had a bit of help in a locking in venues in Sydney, Wollongong, and the all ages venue in Melbourne through guys in bands that were supporting on the tour. I also asked a lot of bands what places they thought would suit best, and I was given a few shortlists of venues by various band dudes. Having guys help out on their own turf was very handy. The AA show was the one that took the longest to get locked in, and it nearly didn’t happen simply because I had been rejected by a bunch of places and just didn’t know what else was available. It wasn’t a difficulty as such, but it was strange booking venues that I had never even seen before.

Was there a specific point where you realised that the idea of an Australian Rosetta tour had passed from a dream into reality?

The “holy shit this is really going to happen” point came when they emailed me through their confirmed flight bookings.

You’ve established your own touring company, Monolith. Where did the name come from?

I’ve always been a huge fan of the 2001: A Space Odyssey series, and if you’ve read the books or seen the movies you’d know the significance of the Monolith. Coincidentally, Rosetta’s releases are filled with references to monoliths, Europa, the solar system and a lot of general space themes. I thought it was fitting, and it makes the whole deal sound a lot more epic than just a random kid going headfirst into booking tours without much experience outside his own state, haha.

As an unknown touring company, did you run into many negatives when contacting venues and pitching your tour proposal?

As I mentioned earlier, just with some venues that didn’t reply to my emails, or some that didn’t want to lock anything in when I started booking. All Ages shows seem to be a bit tough or too expensive to book generally, but once the venue was found it was easy.

How did the tour play out?

I reached the goals I had set for myself and looking back over it, the only real regret I have is that I didn’t squeeze in one or two more AA shows along the way! As Rosetta are not a full time band, they fronted for their flights and were not concerned about whether or not they would make their money back, and were more concerned with me making back the money I fronted. It wasn’t a particularly massive amount, but I had to cover van hire, promo, gear hire, and I also got a bunch of additional merch printed up for the guys. By the end of it I had covered my expenses and had a few hundred dollars to swing Rosetta’s way. They had sold out of almost all of their merch by the end of the tour, and had made enough band kitty to pay off their band debts and have a little bit left over at the end. They aren’t a big band by any means, and I knew this when booking the tour. All I wanted to do was break even and have a fun tour. They considered the trip to be the most successful tour they’d ever done both financially and in terms of the attendances. All in all, it was a positive experience that I’m glad happened.

What did you learn from your first time on the road as a tour manager?

That it can be a bit easy to slip into the “I’m in a band on tour” mindset and forget about important things that you have to do to make sure the show runs. In Canberra I was setting up my drums and forgot to put all the names I had down for the doorlist… fail! NavMan is everyone’s best friend but doesn’t include every road in Australia. It’s also good to be in a band with older members who will take on board responsibility in those moments where I got too drunk to get everyone into the van at the end of the night. The under 21 driver limit on the van was also a blessing in disguise which I took great advantage of and probably got more sleep in than anyone else on the tour.

You seem relaxed about the entire process. The way I see it: you leveraged an online communication medium to bring an independent American band whose music you love to tour a foreign country for the first time. As you said, the band consider it their most successful tour thus far. To me, this is incredible. I suppose that because you’ve been devoted to the idea since you began planning in November – and then lived and breathed the company of these guys for most of last month – you’re accustomed to the concept. But still, reminiscing now, aren’t you impressed with, and proud of your actions?

I am proud of the fact that everything went so well, however I wouldn’t say that I really impressed myself as such… I knew I was capable of pulling it off from the beginning, and I’m my own most harsh critic. It was a lot of work, and it took a lot of time, but none of it was necessarily difficult work and I knew the steps I had to take along the way, and had a lot of advice from friends that have booked tours and shows before. I think I’d be impressed with myself if I pulled off a huge arena tour with a well known band, contracts, guarantees, big sponsorships, mass-media support… because that’s something I know I may not be so capable of doing just yet. In the scale of touring an international band, this was fairly low key operation I think.

I’m one of many who monitored the progression of the tour through blog discussions and your on-the-road updates. You’re aware that you’ve gained the attention of dedicated fans of independent bands throughout the world. Two questions: what advice would you give to a fan seeking to emulate the path you took to secure Rosetta’s first international tour, and, in retrospect, was there anything you would have done differently?

If someone is wanting to tour a small, relatively unknown overseas band, make sure you love their music so much that you’re willing to lose a bit of money on it if it doesn’t work out – don’t do it if you’re just trying to make a quick buck because you probably won’t. If the band is part time and willing to pay for their own flights, that takes a lot of pressure off. It would not have worked if Rosetta wanted all their costs covered. In terms of doing things differently: I would have booked a smaller venue in Newcastle, tried to get some smaller AA venues along the way, got pre-sale tickets going, I would have got more merchandise printed up for Rosetta, and I wouldn’t have kicked that metal pole in Adelaide – my foot still hurts.

What’s next for Monolith Touring?

I want to chill out for a bit and focus on the other things I have going, but I do want to be at least in the process of booking another tour by the end of the year. Rosetta have said that there are plenty of bands that they are friends with that would be keen to come over here and do a similar deal to what they got. One of my favourite bands actually emailed me after they heard word of the Rosetta tour, but unfortunately it looks as though at this stage I will be unable to tour them because I simply can’t see their name being big enough to cover the expenses they want covered just yet. I’ve got a few ideas floating around my head; it’s simply a matter of coming to a conclusion on a band that I like enough to want to put the hours into it. I would definitely book an Aussie band a tour if I was into them and they asked me to, but most of the bands I’m into already have that shit sorted by bigger companies or book their own tours, so I don’t want to go stepping on toes. Next time I want to do it properly and without having my own band on the tour, though I do plan on booking more tours for my own bands once we’re ready for it again. So, hopefully there will be news on another tour by the end of the year.

Thanks very much for your time, Lochlan.

Take a look at the tour poster, and check out both Rosetta and The Surrogate on MySpace. If you’d like to get in contact with Monolith Touring, you can reach Lochlan via email or Facebook.

July 5, 2008

Learning When To Speak

Posted in Life tagged , , , at 2:34 pm by Andrew McMillen

You’ve noticed that lately, I’ve been writing once a week, if that.

I read a variety of sources most days, but it takes something special to inspire me to respond in my own words.

Often, I feel that I don’t know enough about a subject to comment. This is less a fear of failure than an internal quality control, which I referred to when discussing my music writing.

Having spent several years wrestling with words, concepts and emotions in a private journal, I’ve started to learn when to speak publicly. But I’m still learning.

The polar approach is to open my mouth and speak about everything that I come across, like the wide-eyed teenager that I used to be. Everything that comes to mind. That drunk guy who I conversed with late last night while waiting for my train home. The costs and benefits of the brand of washing liquid that I use.

I don’t, though. I alternate between the mindsets. Open versus closed. I know intuitively which of those strategies is bound for success.

Umair Haque:

The converse is: you only have to close when your DNA isn’t quite there yet; when the way you manage things still kind of sucks.

Maybe that it’s it. The way I manage things – my thoughts, my ideas, my words – still kind of sucks. Not that there’s anything wrong with sucking, as long as sucking is a means to an end.

Some days I’d like to spend a thousand words analysing a minuscule, inconsequential interaction. Or discuss the way that crowds tend to wait near the top of the stairs at a railway station, while the length of the platform remains largely unused. Some kind of public transport normal distribution comparison.

Maybe my quality control is set too high. Maybe I should be throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I tried that with my Customer, Serviced posts, which I soon lost interest in.

That’s the Long Tail theory, right? Instead of publishing a few precious – ‘quality’ – ideas, put it all out there, and I’ll find demand that I hadn’t anticipated.

We’ll see. Until I better self-manage, I’m inclined to keep my mouth shut.