November 9, 2008

Fear

Posted in Life tagged , , , , at 11:09 am by Andrew McMillen

You know, my biggest fear is mediocrity.

Waking up one day and realising that I embody all the traits that I dislike in other people.

Whether in mind – watching television, not reading, conducting conversations that revolve around inane interpersonal relationship bullshit.

Or in body – eating crap, binge drinking, not exercising.

Fear is healthy. Fear is a huge motivator.

It’d be easy to construct this as some huge deal, a struggle, a rage against mediocrity. But it’s not. Instead, it’s kind of easy.

One simple question, asked over and over: who do you want to be?

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November 6, 2008

Interview: Denis Semchenko, undergraduate music journalist

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:55 pm by Andrew McMillen

Griffith University Communication almost-graduate and current Rave Magazine writer Denis Semchenko kindly saw fit to answer a series of questions regarding his career path, university and internship experiences, and the current state of music journalism on a local and national level.

Thanks for your time, Denis. You’re nearing the end of your Bachelor of Journalism, majoring in Communication (or is it the other way around?) at Brisbane’s Griffith University. How’s that working out for you?

Yes, fingers crossed I’m graduating this semester after finishing my journalism major in Bachelor of Communication (same thing – they make journos!). I have to say it’s a pretty stressful time of the year – I’m the news editor for the Griffith University annual student newspaper The Source, the making of which constitutes the News & Current Affairs Production module (third year journalism subject), so there are always issues with obtaining photos for stories, finishing up others’ work, proofreading, subediting as well as last-minute alterations and unexpected story material, and with the semester’s end looming, I never seem to get bored. Bring on the graduation!

Can you elaborate on your previous tertiary education experiences? 

It’s been a long and somewhat strange trip, to be honest – I wanted to become a journalist since my early teens, but got dissuaded by my parents and their friends who thought it wouldn’t be a suitable career path for me unlike, say, business, accounting or law.

I first started studying Commerce 9 years ago in Canberra; I wasn’t even 18 at the time, fresh out of my high school in Russia, and I ended up hating that course so much I dropped out after a year and went to study IT (again after the suggestion it was the ‘big thing’) at the Canberra Institute of Technology, which I finished after 3 years with a diploma. I did some further IT studies when I moved down to Melbourne 5 years ago but eventually realised my heart wasn’t in programming or systems administration either.

Having relocated to QLD 4 years ago, it took me a further 1.5 years of office work to want to study again, and this time I decided to pursue my original passion – journalism.
 
I understand you’ve undertaken some rather interesting internships. 

Yes, I’ve managed to accrue a somewhat unheard-of grand total of 6 weeks’ work experience this semester, including 3 weeks at ABC Online, 1 week at Channel Nine and 2 weeks at Rave Magazine.

Were these organised by Griffith, or a result of your own initiative and enthusiasm?

Both I guess – the actual internships were organised by my course convenor at Griffith according to the preferences I’ve specified and the slots available – I didn’t end up getting The Courier Mail, Channel Seven or Channel Ten gigs, for example.

The Rave gig was largely a result of a mutual understanding between me and my teacher who seized on the fact that I tended to write my best assignments on music and art themes; besides that, I had always wanted to write about music and being an avid street/music press reader, it meant a lot to me to be writing for Rave.

How did that eventuate? Had you considered music journalism beforehand?

Chris Harms, the Rave editor, seemed to be impressed by the amount of work I did for the magazine during my 2 weeks of internship, including music news, tour announcements, artist interviews, feature stories, CD and live reviews and was happy to give me extra work to do.

By the time my internship ended, I stated I was more than keen to keep doing it – being a musician and a band-member as well as a journalism student, I felt I could contribute to the Brisbane music scene by putting out the word for numerous bands and providing more recorded and live music coverage, as well as learn from the masters while I was at it. 

I was also told that not many uni students who do internships in music press are actually music fans, nor do they particularly wish to attend gigs, so someone like me – a music/guitar nut – was a find.

All said, I feel I’ve finally become someone I always wanted to be – a music writer. 

You mention ‘learning from the masters’ during your time in the Rave office. What’s your opinion on the current state of Brisbane’s four regular street press publications – Rave, Time Off, Scene and Tsunami?

Without being biased, I think Rave is doing a great job – quality written material, extensive live event coverage and people who actually live and breathe music despite the daily stress. 

From my memory, Time Off used to be better back in the day than it is now  – we don’t really need Sydney ads here in Brisbane and I don’t have a lot to say on their new website design and structure.

Scene is doing a good job on covering dance music/hip-hop/club events, however the print version has this very odd and not particularly pleasant whiff to it, which still doesn’t necessarily stop me from reading it.

As for Tsunami, I used to think they were primarily dedicated to heavy music but they actually encompass a broad selection of genres, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

You mentioned that Rave do well despite the daily stress, which I took to mean the difficulty in assembling the content for a widely-read publication week after week. Could you elaborate on this stress, based on your time spent in the office?

Story/news requests pile up every day – everyone wants to be in the magazine! I have witnessed how the artist-publicist scheme works, and while I cannot question its effectiveness, it’s what keeps Rave on their toes.

During my internship, I was in the Rave office every day and that’s when my multitasking skills came to force – I was either writing newsbeats, newsbites, album reviews, feature stories or interviewing artists practically every day. There was a number of interviews that other people could not do so I had to step in and do them, or the opportunity of speaking to an artist you like would pop up and you would miss out because you’d be too busy writing and a fellow contributor would beat you to it!

Having said that, however, the notions of seniority, experience and familiarity with a particular artist/genre are also involved in the interview distribution. The same goes for live gig reviews – the assistant editor is working overtime organising those. It does indeed get rather hectic sometimes but not every day in the Rave office is immensely stressful as you also get relatively cruisy days where you just do things in your time. 

Monday is traditionally the busiest and the most stressful day of the week at Rave, as the print version comes out on Tuesday and you’ve got to make sure you’ve handed in all your copy and corrected all the typos and blunders. I twice helped proofread the print version of the mag and stayed in the office until 7pm with the rest of the staff.

These days, I’m only in the office when I have to interview a certain artist by phone, copy the recorded audio file for transcription and pick up some CDs for reviewing purposes – usually once or twice a week during business hours, but I wouldn’t mind becoming a permanent staffer… if I end up sticking around in Brisbane for longer, that is.

Street press exists for several reasons – to promote artists; to provide critical commentary on artists and their output; to provide advertising space.. you can probably think of more. What role do you think the street press should serve, and how are the above four measuring up to these objectives?

I think the primary role of street press is informing people about the wide variety of music, including live music, available in their hometown – and the above four are answering to the challenge, maybe not 100% because it’s impossible to cover absolutely everyone who’s playing in town during the week, but I still reckon it’s a pretty big effort and I have enormous respect for fellow writers and musicians, particularly when I can tell they feel compelled to do it.

The veil of objectivity among music writers is something I find particularly interesting and amusing. I only write about artists I expect to be entertaining or interesting, and I suspect you’re much the same. Thus, we usually already possess a positive connotation of an artist before we see them play live, or interview them, or listen to their album. What’s your take on objectivity as a music critic?

My take is normally ‘objectivity first, subjectivity second or last’ depending on whether I like or don’t like a certain artist – I agree with you on possessing a positive connotation of an artist and I expect them to deliver.

Chris, the Rave editor, told me it was important that my writing stays objective; at this stage, I feel I’m still largely ‘beyond good and evil’ when it comes to reviewing music that I don’t particularly like, however I also agree that sometimes you’ve got to give flak yet be able to back it up sufficiently.

Another contentious musical topic is individual taste. Music fans will rise to the defence of artists just as soon as they would a family member. It’s a really interesting phenomenon that I was reminded of when Everett True made some inflammatory comments about some Australian artists back in August. With regard to the musicians you write about – do you try to steer away from outright criticism, or do you aim for honesty? I guess this comes back to the objectivity/subjectivity argument, too. 

Again, I agree (but not always conform) with the notion that outright criticism is great when you can back it up, otherwise it’s not far removed from shitting in your own nest when you’re reviewing Australian artists. Everett True said something not everyone else dared to and copped all sorts of righteous “how dare you, you stupid bloody whinging Pom!” response from all corners, which wasn’t surprising at all considering how much an average Australian cherishes their middle-of-the-road “big” bands like Powderfinger and Silverchair.

Honesty, objectivity and confident criticism are my primary aims as a reviewer – I might be a bit subjective towards the abovementioned Powderchair phenomenon due to my consistent failure to grasp it, being a bloody foreigner and all, but my love for original Australian (and international) music remains undiminished.

You seem heavily into music writing at this point in your life. Can you see yourself carving a name for yourself as a writer in that industry, or do you have greater designs for your career?

Yes and yes – I’m going to keep combining my aspirations as a musician with music writing and I’m prepared to do the hard yards on both accounts.  

Given the people you’ve met throughout your course and your time spent engaging with the media industry itself, have you got any advice you’d like to impart on would-be journalism undergraduates, media personalities or music critics? 

Firstly, ask yourself why you want to do it. Secondly, be yourself and thirdly, don’t get starstruck but be patient, persistent, creative, brave and take chances – the last two are from the advice John Birmingham gave me and I think these are the words to live by. 

Thanks for your time Denis. Good luck with the graduation; I’m sure we’ll be reading more of your work in the near future!

Denis Semchenko is a Communication undergraduate and enthusiastic contributor to Brisbane-based music publication Rave Magazine. He can be contacted via email, LastFM or Facebook. His published work can be found with the assistance of Google.

November 5, 2008

Rock Day Jobs: The Mark Of Cain

Posted in Music tagged , , , , at 9:46 pm by Andrew McMillen

The Mark Of Cain are a hard rock band from Adelaide, South Australia. Featuring brothers Kim and John Scott on bass and guitar respectively, the trio were prolific throughout the 1990s and attracted JJJ airplay and a dedicated following. Their last album, This Is This, was released in 2001. Ex-Helmet and TMOC drummer John Stanier went on to greater success with Tomahawk and Battles, and the band laid dormant until earlier in 2008.

The band started a blog in April; it was seldom-updated until I received an RSS notification yesterday. John posted a new article regarding his frustration at being unable to find the time to lay down the vocal tracks for their sixth album.

It’s an interesting read even if you have no interest in the band, and for that I don’t blame you. They play a very aggressive style of hard rock that’s decidedly masculine and notoriously cathartic in its delivery. Check out their MySpace to sample their work.

Here is the link to John’s entry. He discusses day jobs, the government tender process, the Australian Defence Force and their professional doublespeak. It’s not often that I read uncensored diatribes published directly by well-known bands, so I thought I’d share it with you.

I’ve included some quotes below.

Kim is now responsible for the day to day running of a business that has around 900 people in it, and the role he has taken on is still in its infancy as far as his learning the way the company works and so he has been very quiet of late.

As for me, I’ve been involved in a couple of what we call “bids” at work, where long hours are put in (more often than not), to estimate how long a job will take and what it’s cost would be and then issue it out as a response to a customer’s needs. In this case the customer is usually the Australian Defence Force, and they often release a request to companies to quote on how much it will cost to provide a particular requirement to meet their operational needs, and that is where the bid process comes in.

Hey, planes drop bombs you know so what are you going do? May as well help get better accuracy and help decrease collateral damage, (my apologies for using doublespeak, what I meant to say was help stop blowing defenceless woman and children and other innocent non-combatants into vapour – the pink mist….).

How great it would have been to have had some success with music that would allow a life that revolved around recording and writing full time rather than trying to fit two disparate careers together which don’t even have the slightest overlap with each other.

Full article here.

November 3, 2008

Marketing Juice

Posted in Life tagged , , , at 11:33 pm by Andrew McMillen

I bought a Spring Valley juice at university the other week. Apple and blackcurrant, on a whim – not my usual drink of choice, but it satisfied.

I wasn’t too impressed by the copy on the side of the bottle, though:

After just one sip of this heaven-sent, preservative-free juice, that halo perched precariously above your head will flicker back to life like a broken neon sign. This of course signals the start of repentance for the pain you’ve put your body through over the weekend.

springvalley.com.au

This is stupid, because they’ve defined their target market as young people who get hammered every weekend and only drink juice as a hangover cure. Alcohol-inflicted injury is what I’m lead to believe the ‘pain’ refers to.

This is their marketing ploy. No preservatives. No added sugar. Drink this when you’ve been a dumbshit binge drinker over the weekend. 

Not the best assumption to make about your target market, right? The ‘liddle facts‘ under the lid are cute, but they don’t gel with the message on the side of the bottle. And they list an impersonal web address.

Contrast this against the copy on the side of a Boost Juice cup. Verbatim:

So, now you’ve got your Boost. Tell us:

Does it taste amazing?

Did our boosties make it for you in a flash?

Did they make you feel good for coming to Boost today?
Please let us know if we reached our usual giddy heights of brilliance today. We love hearing from you, the great stuff as well as what we can do better!

love life

(Janine Allis‘ signature)

janine@boostjuicebars.com


I like this a lot. The tense switches are appropriate. She calls the workers – often young females – boosties, which I’d guess would make them like their job a little more. Like Subway‘s sandwich artists – or maybe not. Maybe they take the piss out of it and hate their jobs. But the ‘boosties’ I witness usually seem pretty happy. 

The copy isn’t overwhelmingly, desperately happy. Just positive overall. And aside from the awesome-tasting juice, the service is one of the reasons I return to Boost. Their assembly line system is tight, even when they’re busy and the queue is dozens deep. Everyone knows what they’re doing, and their work is on display, all the time. Their training regime must kick arse.

And the inclusion of Janine’s address at the end is another nice personal touch. Sure, she’d most likely have assistances reading for her, but I get the distinct impression that I’d receive a reply if I were to email that address. I’ll try it out, and I’ll include a link to this article.

Two different marketing strategies for two different brands targeting two slightly different segments of the juice market. One assumes poor past personal behaviour on their customers’ part; as a result, their tone comes off as haughty, and vaguely offensive. The other makes their loyal customers smile, and extends the opportunity to open a dialogue between producer and consumer.

Which of these is sustainable?

October 16, 2008

Musings on Music Writing and Everett True

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , at 12:05 am by Andrew McMillen

Pig City author Andrew Stafford interviewed Everett True before an audience at Brisbane’s Barsoma last week, and I was one of the nineteen in attendance. True incurred the wrath of Australian mainstream music fans in August, upon which I commented at the time. The event was held as a pilot for QMusic‘s proposed series of music-related public interviews, and while it was poorly attended, I have a feeling that this was due to minimal promotion on QMusic’s part. Some retrospective Googling uncovers that a few sites picked the event up, but it still flew under my radar; evidently, I wasn’t the only one.

During a Q&A discussion about critical discourse within music writing, or the lack thereof, one audience member asked the group how many writers from Brisbane’s local street press were in attendance. My hand was the only one in the air, which he then used to attempt to prove a point about local writers’ general apathy, or something. But dude, come on. I only found out about the event after being nudged by a fellow FasterLouder writer.

Everett stated in his characteristically humorous, self-promotional manner that his goal as a writer is to make everyone jealous of Everett True, and to make people talk about Everett True. In his words: “if you’re not writing to be read, then why the fuck are you writing?”. He and Andrew spoke about street press audiences, critical discourse within music writing, and established that all music writing is inherently subjective, which is something I’ve long since realised. It’s foolish to ever attempt to hide behind the veil of objectivity when discussing music you either do or don’t like.

The interview and resulting discussion certainly prompted internal debate regarding my writing method and purpose. I came up with a few answers, but I expect more to reveal themselves to me in time.

I review concerts primarily for free entertainment, and because live music is the most exciting and readily available form of public entertainment I’m comfortable with. The fulfilled expectations, the brilliantly unpredictable deviations from the standard rock ‘n’ roll script: those are the moments that excite me. There are loads of bands – local, national, international – with whom I’ll happily share my evening.

Of late, I’ve become more concerned with sound dynamics and artistic merit than a conventionally ‘entertaining’ performance, which often translates to the musicians occasionally ambling around stage. This may be simple subterfuge on my part, as I’ve recently become enamored of enormous-sounding shoegaze-type bands, though as ever, I still find the time and place for tastelessly entertaining bands – Bluejuice is the example that springs to mind.

I write about these events because I fucking love them. There’s also the attached personal challenge of whittling several hours of physical and musical theatre down to a few hundred words.

Audience has never been a huge concern for me, and still isn’t. My first reviews were for the eyes of my family and a few close friends; I’ve since become happy to let my articles stand alone, without the need for self-promotion. I update my LastFM journal with a copy of each review as they’re published, which allows fellow event attendees to read my words if they’re so inclined.

But by and large – though I still share published work with my family – I write for myself. Freelancing, as it were, though obviously still subject to the discretion of my editors. I know that my articles get glanced at in print by bored commuters, but the web audience is entirely different: they’re there because they’re interested enough to click.

It’s essentially a thankless job, which I am completely comfortable with. I know the nature of the game that I volunteered for. Not just anyone could do this, as most people don’t care enough to put pen to paper.

I really enjoy thinking about the historical impact that I’m having, though mostly on a personal level: words written at a particular time and place, when linked with my personal writing, will provide a rich tapestry of experiences upon which I’ll reflect fondly in my later years. The same principle applies for the artists I’m writing about. I like that my words capture a snapshot of an artist at a point in their career.

Maybe my sense of realism is unique among music journalists, I don’t know. I’m constantly mindful of the responsibility attached to my words, which are attached to my name.

But to return to my core purpose, free entertainment: all of my work up until this point has been to make a name, carve a niche for myself among my editors, so that I’m more likely to be chosen to write about the artists I want to see.

I suppose that I’m a faker, somewhat, because I wouldn’t write about bands if I wasn’t required to. I didn’t review the handful of shows that I paid to attend this year. I certainly enter a show in a different mindset if I’m reviewing, notepad in back pocket. Fewer beers are often consumed. Which is not to say that I enjoy myself less if I’m reviewing, fuck no; it’s just that I’m more mindful of my peers, my surrounds, and the context of the performance.

All of these ruminations spring from the fact that my music writing is a hobby, a personal passion. The thought of pursuing this as a career has not seriously crossed my mind in years, and funnily enough, not at all during the sixteen-odd months I’ve been a paid music critic.

While following the discussion between Everett, Andrew and the vocal audience, I reflected on whether I was being critical enough in my writing. Whether I was producing memorable words; or offending enough people, if I were to subscribe to Everett’s shit-stirring journalistic methodology. His goal was, and is, to be memorable, perhaps because the inverse possibility would be financially unsustainable.

I think that there’s an inherent sadness in being known first and foremost as a music critic. I mean, fuck, you sit around listening to bands by day and stand around at night watching bands, actively analysing their sound and craft for perceived weaknesses. Stewing on appropriately clever ways to judge their artistic output in a snarky or humourous manner. I know, because I’ve been there. What kind of profession is that?

I disliked how Everett spoke of the lack of critical discourse within music writing; that is, that there’s not enough writers out there sticking the boot into subjectively crap performers, as if it’s some kind of Herculean effort worthy of merit to chastise sub-par musicians. Because I get this picture of a middle-aged, wizened journo spewing forth bile onto his keyboard in the middle of night, this bitter, repulsive person, and I think – fuck that. My imagination may get a little carried away at times, but that image scares me a lot.

Of course, I’ve been concentrating on the negative side of music criticism, as that’s my first connotation. Its antonym is praise, which is what I tend to dole out in my music writing, as I tend to only see artists who I like. And that’s to my advantage, as like I said, music writing – while an undeniably strong passion of mine – is still a hobby. I can’t help but admire those who dedicate their career to writing about music, as they have more energy than I. 

I’m simply content to keep carving my niche, honing my craft, within the small pool of Brisbane music journalists. Memorable? Maybe. Honest? True.

October 10, 2008

Seth Godin On Luck

Posted in Life tagged , , at 10:48 pm by Andrew McMillen

If you need motivation today, Seth’s got you covered.

…effort is directly related to success. Not all the time, but as much as you would expect. Smarter, harder working, better informed and better liked people do better than other people, most of the time.

For sure. Motivation is key here. Fear of failure is a big stumbling point, but I think that inertia paralysis is bigger. Fear of moving outside of one’s comfort zone.

…that’s the key to the paradox of effort: While luck may be more appealing than effort, you don’t get to choose luck. Effort, on the other hand, is totally available, all the time.

I’ve written about luck before. I don’t buy into it. Anything that’s worth having is worth working for, and in many cases – except lottery winners – it is worked for.

But I’ve slacked off lately. I could throw a dozen half-baked excuses at it immediately – too busy, would rather relax, I’ve got other things I’d rather do – but really, there is no excuse. I’m falling short of the standards I set out for myself earlier in the year. My RSS reader is barely prodded of late. I have a stack of unread books that I haven’t touched in months. I can feel the inertia setting in. Recognised patterns are becoming habits; known personal responsibilities are being shirked.

And it doesn’t feel good. Cognitive dissonance. I look back on most booze-fuelled nights in the company of good friends with fondness, but dude, what exactly are you trying to achieve here?

This is a question I’ll continue to ask myself; this entry will serve as a reminder.

September 29, 2008

Perception

Posted in Life tagged , , , at 9:25 pm by Andrew McMillen

I’ve mentioned reframing before. It’s powerful, but difficult to keep in mind. Seth’s post is a timely reminder, though – bolding is mine:

How much of your day is spent doing things you have to do (as opposed to the things you get to do.)? In my experience, as people become successful and happier (the subset that are both) I find that the percentage shifts. 

You’d think that this happens because their success permits them to skip or delegate the have to tasks. And to some extent, this is true. But far more than that, these people redefine what they do all day. They view the tasks as opportunities instead of drudge work.

I don’t buy into the notion that we can’t enjoy what we do all day. That any personal satisfaction achieved in the workplace should be met with self-depricating humour and subsequently buried. That each working week should be considered a battle toward Friday and a weekend of excess, at the cost of health. 

When did this pervasive ideology take root?

Rarely do I witness people – in any field of experience, professional or otherwise – take pride in what they do for a living. 

I see it as a choice – mediocrity, or excellence. Doing enough to get by – the bare minimum – or excelling, extending, exceeding.

I’m starting to remind myself of a character from Office Space, so I’ll give it a rest.

It’s just one of those little rules you create for yourself, though. If only a few people notice the positive choices you make, there’s a good chance that those few are the ones who hold the keys to further opportunities.

Perception is the key concept here. Have to do versus get to do.

September 15, 2008

EMI Records’ Threatening Legal Disclaimer

Posted in Music tagged , , , , at 6:50 pm by Andrew McMillen

A friend handed me a few CDs this afternoon. One of them was Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain by Sparklehorse. After I placed the disc into my computer tray and ripped the tracks to MP3 – which is a habit that I undertake immediately after acquiring any new music – I had a quick glance at the liner notes to try to ascertain something about the artist, as I was as yet unfamiliar.

I came across this paragraph:

Thank you for buying this music. This recording and artwork are protected by copyright law. Using Internet services to distribute copyrighted music, giving away illegal copies of discs or lending discs to others for them to copy is illegal and does not support those in making this piece of music – especially the artist. By carrying out any of these actions it has the same effect as stealing music. Applicable laws provide severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution and digital transmission of copyrighted sound recordings. Many examples of where to buyal legal downloads can be found at http://www.musicfromemi.com

How quaint. This disc was released in 2006. Sparklehorse are signed to Capital Records and distributed by EMI.

Clumsy wording aside, the message is plenty amusing. I smiled at the MP3 encoding program running in the background, quietly transferring the contents of the plastic disc into audio data.

A friend handed me the album with his recommendation. I have every intention of listening and giving him my feedback. I might like it, I might not. But it’s highly unlikely that I’d have given the artist my time without this personal recommendation. I surely wouldn’t have dropped $20 without being remotely familiar with their music.

Naturally, after transcribing the above paragraph, I googled the phrase to see what came back. Unsuprisingly, someone had already dissected EMI’s bullshit legal posturing in February 2006.

Jon Dyer found the message in his store-bought Morningwood CD and discussed its ridiculousness at length in this post. A few choice quotes are included below – I suggest you read the full article.

The day I want a band to give me legal advice is the same day that I ask my lawyer to jump up on the desk, strap on an axe, and rock like Great White at a fireman’s ball.

…one of the last things that I want to read in some liner notes is a big, pseudo legal warning about what I can and can’t do with my purchase. If you’re determined to go this route, have the courtesy to be brief, accurate, and honest with what you write. And have the cojones to put your extensive warnings on the outside of the CD, so I can see what you’re all about before I lay down the $10.

Lending CDs to people is how some people communicate. And what they are doing with that communication is free, evangelical advertising for the bands that they lend. To lie and say that this is illegal is beyond stupid: It alienates the fans, stops free advertising without loss of sale, and actually insults the people who actually took the time to read your liner notes. Like me.

On the other hand – at least I’m talking about Sparklehorse. They’ll stick in my mind a little longer than the average band, whether I like the music or not, purely due to EMI’s hilariously threatening legal disclaimer. 

I wish I could confirm or deny whether they’re still including a similar message in their 2008 releases, but I don’t think I’ve bought a recording by an EMI artist in years. I’ll have to look when picking up You Am I‘s new album.

Mediocrity versus excellence

Posted in Life tagged , , at 1:24 pm by Andrew McMillen

An excellent post on Schaefer’s Blog linked from The Art Of Manliness discusses a general lack of personal responsibility and accountability:

This is why something needs to change – and instead of demanding it from everyone else it has to start with us. As Herbert Spencer aptly spoke, “The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.”

After all, at the end of the day it’s about taking a coat when it looks like it’s chilly outside. You can choose not to, it’s true, but don’t whine when you get cold.  Life’s about choices.

Mediocrity is easy. Excellence is hard. 

I find inspiration everywhere. In the actions – the poor choices – of my fellows. 

They constantly eat crap and wonder why they’re unhealthy? Inspiration to exercise more often and constantly evaluate what I eat.

Their entire day ruined due to a crippling hangover from the night before? Inspiration to exercise self control and restrict what I drink.

They spend considerable amounts of time enveloped within a virtual world while barely functioning in the real world? Inspiration to read, think, discuss, write, create.

This thought process has become easier over time. “What could I be achieving right now?” is the question at the back of my mind. 

The way I see it – we’re here for 80 years. Maybe less, maybe more. Best to make the most of it, right?

Funny how the first connotation we tend to have with that phrase is partying, socialising, hedonism, affluence

Life’s about choices. Since most people are happy with mediocrity, I choose excellence.

August 17, 2008

Music Journalism: Opportunistic Idiot-Baiting

Posted in Music tagged , , , , at 9:04 pm by Andrew McMillen

Funnily enough, days after my last post regarding my interest and participation in the grey area of writing about music, Everett True set his proverbial cat among the pigeons by describing some popular Australian acts as “musical abominations” and suggesting that this country’s music publications are too kind when discussing musicians, both established and upcoming.

While acknowledging that True’s article was little more than a thinly-veiled bit of self-congratulatory promotion – he runs a UK monthly music publication named Plan B Magazine, if you didn’t gather – the uproarious response to his words made for some thoroughly entertaining reading.

Cue, en masse:

How dare this prententious prick of a Pom have the gall to write off a couple of our most popular musical exports? These bands are popular. A lot of people like them. This means that they write good music!

As above, except with more spelling errors and angst, and less rational thought. Here’s a few examples from a discussion that appeared on news.com.au:

Who cares what this wanker says.. If you like the music you like, if you don’t you don’t it is not up to anyone else to tell us what is good and bad!!!
Posted by: Lisa 3:04am August 12, 2008

Well, this comment makes a bit of sense. But Lisa probably listens to The Presets, so her opinion is invalid.

I would suggest that the majority of reviews concerned with the arts boil down to little more than “I don’t like it”. How else can one account for critics’ wildly divergent opinions? Ah well, if you lack creativity, you’ve still got to earn a living somehow … right?
Posted by: Andrew 3:15am August 12, 2008

I like the way Andrew thinks. He’s right, to an extent: the concept of professional criticism is hilarious in itself. He has a cool name, too.

Powderfinger are a great example of an extremely talented Aussie band, who deserve as much if not more recognition here and internationally as the likes of Silverchair and co…
Posted by: James of Sydney 8:15am August 12, 2008

Lulz.

It’s True, Lol. The guy is right, particularly about the street press. The street press in trash, with no critical faculties and poor writing. Just cos it’s free doesn’t mean the writing should be lazy. “I went to the gig by XXX the crowd went off, the band sounded good. oh but I missed the support band cos i was out getting pizza” give me a break.
Posted by: Unaustralian of Australia 9:06am August 12, 2008

What a fantastically well-informed and intelligent opinion. Not generalising at all, no sir!

The discussion henceforth devolved into further idiocy. You could check it out for yourself, but I’d recommend against doing something more productive for five minutes instead. Like banging your head against the wall.

Conversely, True’s initial article yielded some intelligent and coherent responses. Monkeywenchdotnet wrote:

I don’t think positive music writing is lazy or passionless. True is attacking the Brisbane street press in particular, and as a sometime writer for one of the mags which comprises the Brisbane street press I can say with 100% authority that we do it for the love, which is a good thing because the money is crap. Oddly enough, if I’m doing something for the love I want to enjoy it, not spend all my energy complaining about aspects I dislike.

I’m not going to waste my time listening to, talking to, and writing about a band I don’t feel warm about. I don’t feel the need to prove my worth by swinging my pen around and declaring myself the arbiter of good taste by tearing down artists that I’m not interested in.

I wholly echo the above sentiments.

Do I only nominate to review bands that I find enjoyable or interesting? Absolutely. Only once have I accepted an assignment to review bands that I was less than interested in; that show resulted in an unexpectedly enjoyable experience.

The overarching theme that many seem to forget is that all discussion of music is subjective. Preference and taste vary between listeners. This isn’t going to change. Bleating to everyone within earshot that Band X or Band Y are great or shit or relevant or geniuses or ugly or brilliant or immature or talentless or irrelevant or (adjective) isn’t going to change an individual’s preference.

Sure, it’s fun to mock those who listen to The Presets, but I’m being facetious when I do so and don’t devote more than a moment’s thought to the listening choices of those around me. My listening habits have been on display since October 3, 2004. My experimentations, lamentations and guilty pleasures are all there (*cringe*). Do I listen to music that you think is shit? Most definitely. Does this concern me? Certainly not.

I don’t have time for that. It’s hilarious that others do. It’s also interesting to note that musical discussions tend to evoke strong, passionate feelings within many of us.

Within music journalism, there exists a consistent and inelastically large market in idiot-baiting. Thanks for reminding us, Everett.

(footnote – I’ve listened to The Presets quite a bit. I liked their early releases a lot, but their latest is a stinking pile of shit that I never want to hear again.)

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