January 27, 2009

Gonzo Goals

Posted in Life tagged , , at 9:29 am by Andrew McMillen

I just finished Gonzo, the Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour oral biography of Hunter S. Thompson‘s life. An inspiring story of a writer I admire, and who I need to read more of.

As I put the book down, I re-decided that I want to be remembered for my writing voice and tone. This is tougher than ever – internet, blogs, everyone’s publishing, etc. But the way forward is to just write every day and get feedback and get better. Push through the dip, I suppose, though I’ve yet to read that book.

It’s hard. I occasionally feel like I’m languishing, plateauing, not improving. I get these feelings when I’m inactive or being too regular – sitting around, talking and drinking. Which is ridiculous, of course, since these moments shape my knowledge and feelings and dislikes and likes and experiences and memories and examples and voice.

I’m determined to be memorable like Hunter, but without the drugs and alcohol. I’m not naive enough to think that this is an original thought. Probably a hundred thousand have thought or written the same thing after reading, or reading about, Hunter. But it’s pretty awesome to realise that one person can have that affect on so many.

And I want to know that feeling.

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January 21, 2009

I download music. So what?

Posted in Music tagged , , , , at 11:41 pm by Andrew McMillen

Okay, this.

According to data released by IFPI Communications in the UK this week, it is estimated that more than 40 billion illegal downloads of songs occurred during 2008.

While digital downloads accounted for revenues of around $3.7 billion last year, it is estimated than more than 95% of downloads are still via illegal means.

Yeah. So?

I hear a new artist, or existing artist’s new release on the radio or on MySpace or on YouTube or in street press or through a friend recommendation.

I immediately check whether I can acquire the mp3s, through a variety of channels that I won’t divulge here. If I can – awesome. Download immediately, save to disk; in most cases, transfer to iPod. Then:

Listen to music. Do I like?

If yes:

  • Tell friends to listen to music
  • Attend show if they tour – most often in a reviewing capacity
  • Bring friends to show
  • Buy album (in rare cases)
  • Buy merch (in even rarer cases)

If no:

  • Tell friends not to listen to music
  • Do not listen to music

This is how I’ve operated for over a year. I’ve written about this before.

Impress me, or get the hell out of my ears. There’s simply too much good music out there to waste even a couple of minutes listening to a poor, or even an average song.

It’s 2009. The above data should not be surprising. I doubt that many musicians dare to dream of making a decent full-time living from their craft. Competition grows stronger each day, and attention gets diverted further.

I download music regularly. This is my musical microeconomy. What’s yours?

November 18, 2008

Penny Modra of ThreeThousand on writing

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , at 11:06 pm by Andrew McMillen

Penny Modra is editor of ThreeThousand, a weekly email guide to Melbourne’s subculture whose sister publications include FourThousand and TwoThousand for Brisbane and Sydney, respectively. Emerging creative hub Junior interviewed Penny for their second entry in an series profiling established creative types and their advice for the legion of youth attempting to break into industries such as advertising, architecture, design, photography and journalism. 

If you’re reading my blog, you’ll want to read the entire interview. Some quotes:

If you want to make money from writing, you’ve got to understand what copywriting is, and you’ve got to seriously love it (rather than view it as some kind of inglorious detour on your route to literary fame). You also have to actually read the publications you pitch to.

Do you really want an internship at The Age where they’ll pay you nothing and cycle you through business, sports, travel and whatever else for basically no pay? Or would you like to have a column one day that someone has given you because you’ve built up your own identity as a writer more broadly? Better to take on the real world from the start I think.

This is a refreshing outlook. Leave the fact-reporting to boring people. Be known for being interesting, and people will want to talk to you and read you.

…we’re always looking for people who can turn 150 words on a t-shirt into a really good piece of reading. Or a bar write-up into the highlight of someone’s day. And this is a rare and valuable skill.

If you have studied journalism you may well be bitter and pessimistic already – all the joy and honesty has been sapped from you… So try to remember your English language skills and forget everything else. People who are honest, and have genuine curiosity and a real interest in the world are good writers.

I took a grammar elective during the semester just passed, and it started to affect my appreciation of the language. Analysing sentence construction and subordinate phrases is amazingly boring. As a result, I am far more concerned with cultivating an entertaining tone than being grammatically correct.

When you’re pitching to other people, you can send them links to your work. Or you can just meet them by saying “Oh herro, I linked to you in my blog because I think you are rad.” (People do this all the time, apparently. Look, I know it sounds lame, but it’s NOT.) Make sure every piece of work you do is solid gold, no matter what it’s for.

She’s right, it’s not lame. It’s a massive fucking compliment to receive from a fellow writer when you’re young and making a name for yourself, when you don’t know whether what you’re writing is any good.

Get away from school and university networks and clubs and join real world clubs. Such as people who sit at bars and bitch about life. Or people who help out at radio stations. Or people who start magazines. Or run arts festivals. And when you are in conversations with people, listen to what they’re saying. Don’t be all shy, just actually listen to them and then you’ll relax and think of things to say back.

Further to this, I think it’s important to realise that most people won’t read what you write, and to become comfortable with that fact. Because you’ll realise that the people who do read are the ones that matter. They’re the ones you’re writing for; the ones you want to make smile, the ones you want to keep reading your material. Because reading is fucking fun and enlightening and relaxing. There’s miles and miles of thoughts transcribed and ideas published every day, and it’s a thrill to have an audience who’re willing to take the time to read and respond to your words.

Penny ends with this quip:

NEVER use food metaphors in music write-ups. God. Just don’t do it. 

I’m guilty on at least four counts, which is just disgusting. Lesson learned.

Subscribe to Junior right now, because you’ve got no good reason not to. Their first interview with animation director Tim Kentley of XYZ Studios is excellent, too.

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.

October 29, 2008

Interview: ex_king_john, Brisbane concert bootlegger

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , at 10:26 pm by Andrew McMillen

A man seemingly inextricable from the Brisbane music scene of late goes by the pseudonym ex_king_john. He attends shows most weeks, and records the majority of performances he sees. He regularly blogs and posts recordings at Turn It Up To 10, while past recordings can be found on his LastFM journal. He’s kindly taken the time to reflect on several topics, including his motives for recording shows, street press, rock music and the wider Brisbane music scene.

Thanks for your time. First and foremost – why do you record shows?

In 2006 my kids finished high school.  It is surprising how much time that frees up for anyone who is even remotely involved in their kids’ education, especially on the weekend.  Weekend television is a wasteland and my social life – which had pretty much consisted of school-related stuff – fell off as well.  So I went back to doing what I had done before I had children: going out to watch bands.  I’d been taking the kids to the Big Day Out for a few years and listened to ZZZ [mainly The Yard] and JJJ so I knew a bit about the music scene but not a lot really about the local scene.  For a birthday present that year I bought myself tickets to Teenage Fanclub, and Bob Mould at The Zoo [my first time there].  Started going to Ric’s and seeing local bands ’cause it was free. I was getting morning coffee from Jamie’s in the Valley at the time and met Bo. who played all this reggae which I also love passionately and went to a couple of shows in the carpark there before it was closed down.  Saw I Heart Hiroshima, Nightcrash, early Scul Hazzards with Lachlan on vocals, Shakes, couple of other noise bands, Heavyweight Champion.  Suddenly you’re going out every weekend, sometimes twice. 

But before this I think it was the year before, I went to an Ed Kuepper show at The Troubadour and had a great time. Later I noticed it had been bootlegged and I emailed a couple of the guys who had it up on trading sites and asked if there was any way I could get a copy.  No one even answered the email.  So I figured if I wanted any recordings I’d have to have something to trade.  So I spent some time looking at the different technology options ranging from hideously expensive to really cheap and eventually went with cheap but good quality.

I got a basic [cheap run-out of an old model] Mini-disc from Sydney and ordered the mics and pre amp from the US. They all arrived the day before Market Day 2006 and I worked out how to use it that night and went along the next day and recorded Sekiden, IHH, jump2lightspeed, Iron On, a couple of others.  And finally went along to the next Ed Keupper show at Ric’s and hey presto, I’m a bootlegger.

Can you describe your recording setup?

A picture paints a thousand words.  Here’s the setup I used at Splendour this year.  Actually it’s the contents of my pockets.  Nothing bigger than a cigarette packet.  

ex_king_john's bootleg configuration

ex_king_john's recording setup - click for full size

The little foam balls are the microphones with windshields on them – they sit in my ears.  The small black box is the pre-amp and the gray thing is the mini-disc.  The other items are phone, spare discs, batteries, wallet, change and programme.  Technically I use Sound Professional binaural mics and a Sound Professional  Pre-Amp.  I record as wav files onto a Mini-disc [Model MZ-NH600]  The Mini-disc I use is inexpensive and only has a line-in not Mic-in plug so I need the pre-amp unit.

It seems to me that this has evolved from a curious hobby to something of a mild obsession – you said yourself that you aim to record every band you see. Do you remember a distinct point where you made this realisation?

There wasn’t really a distinct point. Early on, I do remember looking at the lists of taped shows and thinking, “I could get a copy of every show The Church ever did but there are no Sekiden recordings out there”.  And everyone asks if there are any <insert obscure 1970’s local band name here> tapes around but no one is recording anything except their reunion shows. Even now, all the tapers want are the big names. Fair enough, but it didn’t seem like it was helping the music.  In 20 years time when someone says “do you have any Nightstick or Sekiden tapes” at least they’ll be able to say yes to Sekiden.

You can see that it’s not exactly a heavy load to carry round.  I don’t mosh so I’m usually just standing watching the band anyway. Doing a shuffle and nodding in time is about as active as I get.  So it’s easy to have it and record.  I don’t see it as an obsession really.  I just go out a lot to see bands and I carry the rig with me so if I see a show, it’s probable that I’ll record it.  It’s not so much an aim as a natural consequence.  If anything I’m obsessive about going out to see bands.  I’m happy to admit to that.

What do you aim to capture when recording a performance?

Because I have a fairly basic recording setup, I pretty much capture what I hear and I’m stuck with that though that is also the beauty of what I do.  I try to avoid doing anything to the sound cause I’m not very technically smart in that area.  The most I do is put the recording through a compressor if it’s a bit quiet.  Makes it a bit easier to hear over loudspeakers. On a couple of recordings I’ve filtered out some really low buzzy bass noises that made it hard to hear detail.  Usually it’s the drums being mic’d to hell but these days it could be aggressive bass amping. So it depends on the room and the sound engineer on the night. But I do like the room noise.  I have a couple of soundboard recordings and they are very clear but dead silent between tracks, and they lack that spark that a good audience recording can have.  I also like some of the audience noise though it is really annoying when people stand next to you and have a conversation about something.  I can’t really tell them to shut up ’cause I’m recording.  Though I have told a couple to shut up because they were actually interfering with my enjoying the show. 

What is it about rock music that you find exciting? What do you look for in a band’s live performance?

I am piss poor at analysing this side of it.  Music is transcendent and the best live music takes me out of the now, or arouses or hightens emotions, usually positively.  The physicality of rock adds another dimension.  In fact I’m musically fairly diverse and some of my most memorable musical experiences have been a children’s choir; the first time I saw Jay Reatard; a church pipe organ recital in a Brisbane suburban church; Little Feat at Festival Hall, and Eddy Current Suppression Ring at the Step Inn this year.  I never know what will happen, so I look forward to any musical experience and I’m rarely totally disappointed.  I’m just lucky I guess.

What do you find appealing about the Brisbane music scene?

First up, the music.  Then the people.  Plus it’s all pretty accessible in the Valley with a few venues outside like Rosie’s or Fat Louie’s in the City and the Hangar in Red Hill or a couple in West End.  Not like Melbourne which has a great music scene but way more spread out.  But seriously when I started going out again it was not like the old days. Pig City made it sounds great but once you got past The Survivors and The Leftovers and Razar and The Go-Betweens and The Saints etc doing one-off shows at suburban halls that hadn’t heard of them yet, there just wasn’t much else on.  Now there are hundreds of good bands and tens of venues.

And the people are great.

Since you’ve become friendly with many members of the Brisbane music scene, do you occasionally feel obliged to attend certain shows?

No. I don’t think I’ve felt that at all.  I try to avoid promising that I’ll tape particular shows because that generally means something will go wrong.  But I’ve never felt anyone expected me to go to certain shows.

I may have the year wrong, but I recall that Pearl Jam were offering live recordings of their 2003 Australian shows soon after the band had finished playing. I think Something For Kate did something similar more recently for a special show that they played at The Corner in Melbourne. Do you think that there’s a market for venues to offer similar limited edition recordings? This question immediately sends copyright alarm bells ringing, but I’m interested in your thoughts. Places like The Zoo get loads of quality bands each month, and I think they’re missing a legitimate opportunity by not recording. Or maybe they do, secretly…

Pretty sure The Zoo is not secretly recording anything.  If venues do record I’m also pretty sure the bands agree and get something for it.  The Drones seem to have a habit of recording their live shows and selling them in various formats to fans.  More and more bands are seeing these as legitimate recordings for fans and using them to make money or at least as marketing tools.  It’s becoming more common I understand for venues in the US to record and sell live shows to punters as they leave the venue, especially the larger venues and chains like Clear Channel’s live venues.  There are a couple of venues in Melbourne that record shows regularly and make them available on line like Moshcam, but audio instead of video.  I don’t know how money is made there but it is a commercial operation.  Copyright is relatively easy to work out I expect.

What do you think about Moshcam?

Moshcam is great.  I visit there occasionally. 

Does MegaUpload offer traffic stats? If so, which of your recordings have proven most popular?

MegaUpload offers basic statistics.  There’s a number of downloads for each file but there’s also a stat that should show where the downloaders come from.  Some files that have been downloaded 30 times according to the number of downloads haven’t been downloaded at all if I ask where the downloads went.  But I think at least the relativities are probably correct.  So far the most popular download by far has been the Wolfmother @ GOMA show – over 500 downloads.

Wolfmother – Live @ GOMA Warhol Up Late – 12 April 2008 – 504

Powderfinger – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – August 2007 – 170

Sigur Ros – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – 03 Aug 2008 – 168

Wolfmother – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – 03 Aug 2008 – 102

The Grates – Live @ The Troubadour – 24 June 2008 – 80

The Saints – Live @ Pig City – 14 July 2007 – 74

Band Of Horses – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – 02 Aug 2008 – 72

The Drones – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – 02 Aug 2008 – 71

Editors – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – August 2007 – 58

Battles – Live @ The Zoo – 22 Jan 2008 – 56

What role does the Brisbane street press currently fulfill, and where do you think they’re missing opportunities? 

Street press is important because it’s an easy-to-access guide to what is happening in the city.  Maybe not every single thing, but generally the gig guides are essential as is the advertising for upcoming tours etc.  Time Off‘s gig guide has gone off a little since the recent change and I hope they can bring it back up to speed.  The web is much less useful for gig guides.  It’s great for finding out stuff you know about already.  And I find it a lot easier to browse a single A3 sheet of closely-packed type than scroll through pages of sparsely-populated web pages.  Plus I read most live reviews and record reviews.

You’ve seen a lot of shows in Brisbane and visited most, if not all live venues. Is there anything you feel the scene is missing, or opportunities that haven’t been fully realised? We all know there’s a gap between The Arena/The Tivoli and the Convention Centre

If Brisbane has a problem it is too many good bands for the size of the fan base.  Many more venues might run the risk of spreading the numbers too thin.  The other problem is that for all the going out that’s going on, most of the people going out are going to clubs.  Music is secondary for them.  Not that there aren’t dedicated dance music fans who do follow the music.  

But the lack of a venue between the Tivoli and the Brisbane Entertainment Centre is a problem I think.  Pity they pulled down Festival Hall.  There is a rumour of a 1000 person venue in West End coming up.

Looking back over your recordings thus far, you seem to lean heavily toward rock acts. Are there certain genres you steer clear of? Can we expect to hear ex_king_john recordings of touring metal or hip hop acts?

I try to see different genres but obviously I’m a fan of rock music.  I don’t steer clear of any genre in particular but I’m not a big fan of metal so it’s unlikely you’ll hear too much of that. Or musical comedy.

Finally – 2008’s been a great year for live music in Brisbane. I’ve been to loads of shows, though mostly touring Australian bands. What are some highlights of this year on a local, national and international level?

The aforementioned Jay Reatard, and Eddy Current shows.  Golden Plains was a whole weekend of highlights.  The Drones at Splendour.  John Cale at the Tivoli in Nov last year, Battles at The Zoo.  Last week at the Step Inn was just about the perfect lineup of local bands – Violent Soho, Eat Laser Scumbag, No Anchor, Turnpike, Dick Nasty – just add Nova Scotia.  But then I’d go see I Heart Hiroshima, The Grates, Sekiden anytime, anywhere as well.  I will shamelessly plug the Before Hollywood compilation “Stranded” here as one of the best compilations ever.  If you don’t have it, get it and use it as your guide to Brisbane music as it exists in 2008.

Seconded – Stranded is great. Thanks for your time!

ex_king_john’s name isn’t John; he would prefer to remain anonymous. He can be contacted via email. His blog is Turn It Up To 10. If you spot a guy at a Brisbane concert wearing earphones and staring intently at the stage, say hi – just not while the bands are playing.

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.

September 6, 2008

Music Excites Me

Posted in Music tagged , , , at 3:27 pm by Andrew McMillen

The quantity and variety of music available in the current market is staggering. I listen to a lot of artists, but these represent a thin slice of the pie graph. On a local level, a national level, an international level – there’s a lot of music I’m not aware of.

This isn’t a bad thing. I’m not worried. I’m recommended new artists all the time, thanks to the rich network of friends I’ve developed as a result of my position as an extroverted music fan. I’m happy to slowly cultivate my tastes and preferences at my own pace, but these recommendations are much appreciated. 

My network of fellow music fans and my position as a live music writer present ample opportunities to witness and consume the output of musicians. I watch and hear local Brisbane bands while they’re still finding their collective voice and tone. I’m employed to critically assess their performances, and – while consciously attempting to not appear too delusional or hubristic – it’s nice to imagine that my words and thoughts have a perceptible effect on the music scene, both local for Rave and national for FasterLouder.

Of course, the web-based nature of these publications transcends geographic boundaries. Which is also pretty cool.

I rarely consider the act of being published when I’m writing and editing my articles. I’m far more concerned with achieving a clear and consistent tone. 

I don’t consider what I do to be all that skilled, or talented. I may spend a couple of hours crafting a piece, but once it’s submitted, it’s released from my mind. I acknowledge that there is some degree of skill attached to writing coherently and at-length about an event which may be attended by hundreds or thousands. But I don’t sit around self-congratulating.

I suppose that critical thinking is the single most important element of what I do. Not just when analysing a band’s sound and style. But when taking a step back from the noise and observing my fellow attendees.

My frequent concert attendance allows great opportunities to people-watch in a relatively closed environment. Here’s people who have, in the majority of cases, parted with a market-nominated fee so that they can inhabit this environment for a couple of hours. They have forgone the opportunity cost of every other potential activity. Which is why I’m always intrigued when watching paying concertgoers talk to their friends throughout performances.

One of the most affecting performances I’ve witnessed this year occurred late last month. Local band Skinny Jean supported fellow Brisbanites The Boat People. This was singer and keyboardist Heidi Minchin’s last show with the band. I hadn’t heard Skinny Jean before the night, but had read some encouraging words written by fellow Brisbane street press contributors.

For a few songs, I stood entranced. Minchin delivered a vocal solo that raised my neckhairs and brought tears to my eyes. Holy shit. These are the moments that I love. Needless to say, I bought the band’s EP immediately afterwards, and wrote positively about their set. This is a video comprising the twin highlights of that night’s performance – first the excellent Anhedonia, then Anti0kie, the song which features Minchin’s vocal solo. 

I didn’t intend to cite specific examples when I began writing this entry. It developed organically. It felt right to reference a band whose performance moved me.

Music as a social object. It’s a concept that I think about often, and one that I will return to in future entries.

September 1, 2008

How I Think About Music

Posted in Music tagged , , , at 11:43 pm by Andrew McMillen

I heard a song on the radio this morning. By the radio I mean Triple J, as despite its shortcomings, it’s still my first choice.

The artist was Mercy Arms, whose debut is currently feature album of the week.

I liked the song. I made a mental note to check if it was available for download yet. By download I mean torrent, or Soulseek if I was really desperate.

I can’t remember the last time I bought an album without downloading at least some of the artist’s music. Try before I buy. I bought Violent Soho‘s debut from a record store without listening first, but I was already reasonably familiar with their work.

The exceptions to this rule occur when I see bands live. Most of the albums I’ve bought this year have been directly from the artist, after they’ve finished playing.

Example: Pivot.

I was first made aware of the band around May 2008, though they’d existed since 2005. They were featured on MySpace Australia; the accompanying text raised my ire. “Australia’s answer to Battles!” or something similar. Two thoughts crossed my mind: “what a shallow comparison” and “surely, they can’t be right?

I probably made a negative comment about the band to a fellow Battles-fan friend, without having heard a note of Pivot’s music. Props to the MySpace marketer who was able to create an impression on me, brief and negative though it may have been.

The band disappeared from my radar until they were announced as the headliner of the penultimate monthly Wolfgang event, at Alhambra Lounge in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. Huh. Looks like I’d have to give them a listen.

Their gory stop-motion In The Blood video was pretty cool, but I wasn’t convinced. Crappy YouTube-quality audio didn’t sway me. I needed the album. So I asked a friend who had access to a secretive, exclusive torrent tracker. Album acquired.

I listened to the album – O Soundtrack My Heart, their second – over and over, in the weeks preceding the July 31 Wolfgang show.

I brought a bunch of friends to the event. We drank. I bought the album after the show. Without bothering with specifics, that’s a couple of hundred dollars to the venue, and, one would imagine, a percentage of that revenue directly into the band’s pocket.

I reviewed the show, which may have influenced a few readers to follow the same ‘discover, download, listen, enjoy’ cycle. Or I can stop imagining that my words provoke others into action. Although

I downloaded the band’s fucking album. So what? I liked it, I brought my friends to see them perform live, and I bought the album at the first opportunity. I supported the artist directly.

Sidestepping the initial musician funding discussion – which is another conversation entirely – is there a problem with the series of events I just discussed?

To me, it’s a fine example of the current state of the music market. I won’t pretend to be familiar with the correct terms and concepts, but this is how I think about my choice to listen to Pivot:

  1. Initial investment – listening time and bandwidth usage
  2. Satisfaction with product – ongoing listening time investment*
  3. Opportunity to witness product in live environment accepted
  4. Friends referred – further interest in product created, perhaps maintained
  5. Initial investment paid to producers – $25 for the album and x percentage of door/bar takings on the night
  6. Potential ongoing referrals and value creation as a result of my positive product review
  7. * Opportunity cost of listening to any other artist during this time is foregone

Cool, right? I found and enjoyed a band based on the initial time investment. The band didn’t see a cent until we arrived to see them in person. Again, discounting the discussion of how an artist affords equipment, travel and promotion in the first place – if there’s a problem with this model, I can’t see it.

O Soundtrack My Heart is one of the better albums I’ve heard this year. Listen on MySpace or watch on YouTube and let me know what you think.

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.)

August 3, 2008

Music Journalism

Posted in Music tagged , , at 1:08 am by Andrew McMillen

I just spent a couple of hours completely enveloped in music, and the discussion thereof.

I Googled The Courier-Mail‘s music section, after my parents recommended that I read an article written by Noel Mengel about iconic British artist Paul Weller‘s forthcoming tour. Mengel’s (now seemingly dead) blog appeared near the top of the search results – specifically, his review of 2007’s Four Ages of Robert Forster concert series. Nice. A smile remained on my face as I read about Forster’s songs and antics; I ruminated on the handful of encounters I’d had with the man thus far, and anticipated his show later this month.

That wasn’t the reason I went to the site, though. I read the Weller article and made a mental note to download acquire and absorb his latest release. That’s another potential show and review on the horizon: in this case, I’d accompany my parents. My eye was attracted to a headline elsewhere on the Courier Mail’s music page: “Remembering Nirvana, twenty years after the Love Buzz“.

Nirvana. We all know Nirvana. I grew up with Nirvana. We all did. Well, all the cool kids did. Yes, I’m applying the cool tag to myself. Erroneous? Subjective.

The article read well. It was written by Everett True. Everett Who? In the article, he states facetiously that he attempted to distance himself from widely-publicised claims that he defined the genre “grunge”, and introduced Kurt and Courtney. Intriguing. Wikipedia suggested that he’s quite prolific. Google led me to his MySpace page, which led me to his VillageVoice column.

All of this information cascaded within a couple of minutes. A few clicks, a curious expression, and skim-reading eyes. Internet, how ’bout it?

Everett True currently lives in Brisbane. He saw the same Gin Club show as I. His weekly column is highly amusing. Wikipedia suggests:

…some appreciated his enthusiastic tone, while his critics were infuriated by the highly subjective, self-referencing nature of his work.

I appreciate his enthusiastic tone, in addition to the self-referencing nature of his work. One of his posts linked to this video by Those Dancing Days, and damned if I haven’t listened to that song ten times in a row. Shamelessly gorgeous Swedish indie pop.

What am I braying about?

Music. It’s all about the music. Man.

“I love music”. A common and cliché statement. But absolutely true.

I saw bands on Thursday and Friday nights. I’m seeing bands Sunday night. The months ahead are arranged around shows of interest.

This is my life. Nothing excites me more often than music.

In December 2007, I was shortlisted for a VRaw-sponsored assistant journalist internship at Rolling Stone’s Sydney office. Coincidently, Almost Famous was shown on television as I was waiting for the application result. I re-watched the film and allowed myself to get carried away with the romanticised notion of it all. Music journalist. A kind of pre-emptive narrative fallacy.

The internship didn’t happen. But I do still get to call myself a music journalist. The moment that I start using that term in a serious, non-self-deprecating manner hasn’t arrived. If it does, I hope that someone’s around to wake me up.

Music writing is my hobby, not my vocation. It’s my escape, of sorts. See some bands; reflect; write coherently. Repeat. Enjoy.

Sometimes, though – that thought creeps up. You could do this. Full-time. Come on, it’d be fun! The thought is usually dismissed and forgotten.

Sometimes, though…

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