Welcome To The Machine!!! The way things are vs. were vs. will be…

NOTE: The following is just some random thoughts stemmed from a few observations that popped in my head with this whole SXSW 2010 thing.  It’s not a condemnation of SXSW, just thoughts and, who knows, maybe even a discussion generator?

Well, if I’m not mistakin’, this week starts off the music portion of SXSW or something. It happens annually and every year you see the bloggers, twitterers, bands, etc, etc, etc, go down to pimp their wares or to write about the wares they just got pimped on them. I pretty much ignore it but I was struck this year, and maybe this is because how much more active I am on Facebook/Twitter and on my own site than I ever was, but it seems like everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is going to SXSW. Bands, music websites, non-music websites, bloggers, friends of bloggers, celebrities, products, I mean EV-ER-Y-ONE. Now, I don’t feel left out because that’s such a common feeling to me, it’s when I’m included it feels weird, but it kinda hit me today….

Pink Floyd once sang, “Welcome To The Machine”, a reaction to the music industry’s desire more for money than artistic expression, and they were right, it was a machine. Back when it was dominated by the big labels, it was “yeah, yeah, great music you got there, wonderfully artistic, but, uh, which is the single?” Now, for those artist who still live in that big label world, vying for Top 40 air play, old school style, say The Black-Eyed Peas or the latest American Idol make-over kid, it’s still exactly the same. It’s about airplay in all the modern markets and moving CDs & mp3s, that’s it. In fact, it’s become so much about “moving mp3s” via iTunes and to a lesser degree Amazon/Rhapsody/etc, that, as has been discussed a million times, the “album” as we knew it is dead in that world. You need about 10 – 12 songs, 3 to 4 of which that have hit potential, the other songs will be for the CD buyers that are still around. The end.

So, Pink Floyd’s machine, as they saw it, is still running. Yeah, it needs an oil change, a tune-up, some new spark-plugs, and, hell, probably needs a full re-build, but it’s still there. Just like my 1980 Toyota Pick-Up parked in the back alley. Yeah, it runs… ish.

You and I, we HATE that machine, ew, Black-Eyed Peas? Miley Cyrus? Taylor Swift (is that really her name)? Whatever, who cares who’s on that machine that’s not part of OUR machine-less world, is it?

Well, yes and no.

Is She & Him trying to get a heavy FM station rotation of “In The Sun”? Is Local Natives hoping that VH1 adds them to their morning videos hourly repeat rigmaroles? Doubtful (though I doubt they wouldn’t be upset if they were added). But both are showing up, along with 1,288,310,311,604 bands to SXSW in Austin in hopes that one more blog writes about them, that maybe Pitchfork or Stereogum or Paste will give them a standout shout out, that they’ll move a few CDs (or LPs), or that 189 people on twitter will tweet to their 538 average followers how much just loved the song they just heard by that band in one of their 900,000 abbreviated sets while standing next to OMG, that guy from Animal Collective, potentially increasing the awareness of that band’s existence & their own coolness to 101,682 people. All, of course, sponsored by such indie-companies as:

Maybe that site will blog about this party and that label will show up to that party and this one band will get signed to make that album? The machine looks & sounds different, but it’s still a machine. Hell, I’m part of it and so are you.

It all is though, for all industries, all the time! What strikes me the most is the “annualness” of it all. Hollywood’s “award season” watching people & celebrities & studios & bloggers & tweeters “gearing up” for the oscars or the globes or whatever.

Watching sports people, teams, apparel folks, espn, bloggers, tweeters “gear up” for this bracket basketball thing or the super bowl or whatever.

Every industry has it, there are small indie events like Comfest in Columbus, there are big corporate ones like The Music Awards (the Emmy or whatever it is that Taylor Swift or whoever won all those trophies) and there are those in between, like SXSW which start out as a little indie thing and is slowly become this big corporate one. Follow the money, it feeds the machine.

I guess it’s in our nature, we are programmed to follow the machine. Just look at the original machine, seasons. Yep, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring… Think of the annualness, not just of the physical changing of the weather, sun, and our living/farming patterns, but of our annual reactions to it all. Our annual begging for the warmth of spring, our complaining of the heat, our love of the “first snow”, our hate of the last few snows, the holidays we tied to the seasons, from Xmas to Easter and back again for the Christian types, but the millions of others to the millions of other types. I guess it’s a sense of progression of change that we like, but with a giant fat glob of consistency of that change. We love it and we love to hate it, yet every year (and really pick your own starting point, doesn’t have to be Jan 1), we do it over and over and over (and over and over and over) again.

Some traditions grow and take over, becoming an institution (like Xmas), some, once significant, disappear to only a select few (like Winter Solstice), some stay small and “indie” (like Kwanzaa).

Are you following my thoughts??

Now, again… This is not a treatise or some rant on or against SXSW/MTV Awards, X games/Olympics, Cannes/Aspen/Sarasota Film Festival/Acacemy Awards, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc by any stretch of the imagination, to each their own, and whatever tickles your belly-button…. No, it just fascinates me. By “it”, I mean, us, we, aka you AND me. We are a funny creature, us humans. We rebel against the old way, only to make a new way that becomes the old way which we’ll then rebel on while we also reminisce about the way things used to be. Will our dear bloggers, bands, music zines, product placement reps, PR folks, swag-bag-giver-outers, party hosts, bar owners, etc one day look back to the good old days of SXSW while watching the new way grow and take over? Judging from the size of this year’s, are they already doing that?

I mean, it will change, SXSW will go away at some point. Better technology, a worsening economy, a struggling industry, a backlash to it’s corporateness, etc, etc or simply just a better/closer “festival” concept means more bands will opt out of packing up & taking a trip to yet-another-city to play in some tiny bar or apartment or whatever in hopes that they “win the lottery” vs the other 1,288,310,311,604 bands and the right people will be at their right set and give them the right attention at the right time, and for what? To get a contract with Merge or Matador? To become talked about & respected? To sell a couple albums? Maybe be successful, in an Arcade Fire way, or hell, maybe in a Black-Eyed Peas way?? So that you show up on Perez Hilton one day with white squiggle marks written on you while he wonders if you fucked that one guy or made out with that one chick while doing Red-Bull and coke on the back of that one celebutante?

I don’t have all/any of the answers, but it’s pretty interesting…  Maybe I should be at SXSW? *shrug* All I know is I’ve now got a hankering to listen to some Pink Floyd.

Anywhosal, I’d love to hear your thoughts on machines, music & other.  If not, no worries, this cog in the machine will be back again soon to talk about whatever the hell is playing and filling up his ears with joy!



10 comments for “Welcome To The Machine!!! The way things are vs. were vs. will be…

  1. March 16, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    I don’t know Tsuru. To me, the tone you’re giving here is condemning of a lot of things but you’re tip toeing backwards in the same process by saying that you don’t have the answers (who does!). Calling out bands, or bloggers, or tweet-happy funtrepreneurs on an assumption that you have about why they’re all collecting is a bit much.

    I mean, sure, the colossal nature of what SXSW has become definitely dwarfs most anything that will come of it. Long gone are the days when a handful of bands will be deemed breakthrough artists because of it… when you have thousands showing up to play when, where, and to whoever they can, the entire process does become wicked-saturated. But that’s not to say that bands, promoters & fans are all going because of the chance at getting a whisker’s bit of press about themselves. There’s a lot of fun to be had, a lot of good music to be heard, and a lot of good friends to hang out with. This coming from someone who has little interest in attending.

    That and you’re calling out commercial success. What has commercial success ever done to piss you off? I talk to commercial success all the time… well, talk AT commercial success. It typically avoids me and refuses to return my calls. But I don’t think commercial success is a bad guy or anything. It an of itself isn’t bad. Changing what you’re doing with the sole aim of finding it, however, is a slippery slope.

  2. March 16, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    Excellent points, and you are probably right on me condemning AND backing at the same time (I’m a slippery one like that), but it really is just thoughts as they vomited out of my head, so take it with that much salt and maybe a pinch or two of pepper.

    Though SXSW was the reason for the season(ing), it really strikes me the love/hate I/we all have for all the machines, the ones we take part in, but also (and maybe especially) the ones we don’t. Some people hate sports but then gleefully play along come “oscar season”, it’s the same thing, just a different machine.

    I find these machines fascinating! I’m part of one, two, maybe even three or four when you consider my blogging, my line of work, and even the cycling & photography! The annualness of it all, especially.

    I feel like, so often, we are each our own little CD on “mad repeat” over and over and over again, except every now and again a song will change to something new.

    But I will say again, I don’t mean to condemn, afterall, I DO plan on participating in a festival or two myself (hopefully the one up in Calgary this year), but I do hope I don’t find myself stuck in a full album repeat of my own.

  3. March 16, 2010 at 4:24 PM


    good read. I got sucked into SXSW fever this year and listened to a bunch of the showcasing artists. Would be fun to go but I wont be able to for at least 2 years, maybe it will still be around then?

  4. March 16, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    Oh… the commercial success thing. Success is what you make of it, what I’m wondering is, perhaps poorly when I re-read my post, is “what is success?” especially in the era of a million band vying for attention in some town in Texas. What does band X hope to achieve? Sales? Signings? Write-Ups? Maybe become the next big SXSW break-out? When it’s become this big, it really is a lottery system and I wonder how much longer it will be worth it or will be another notch on the calendar of “have-to-dos” (which takes me back to the annualness of things).

    Fun thought stuff! You know me.

  5. March 16, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    @bryon – “TSURURUNOFF?” haha! love it. If I start speaking in TXT speak, shoot me! lol.

    I’m sure it’s quite the experience to go, though, knowing me, I’d be so overwhelmed with options, I’d be standing in the middle of the street completely paralyzed unsure which direction to take my first step!

  6. March 16, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    The more I do this bloggin’ thang, the more I’m struck by the similarities to so many other things in our lives. I just wish I was better at articulating them and sharing them…. I’ll try to get better over time!

  7. March 16, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    ‘what is success’ – I once read something that really struck me as dead on and I carry it with me to this day. To paraphrase, ‘Internet famous isn’t real life famous.’

    I like the idea, and think it translates well here.

    There’s a lot of treading water that goes on online, especially in terms of PR, bands, blogs, etc. A lot of effort goes into shit that in reality will do little to no benefit. Think of some douchenozzle band trying to get 100,000 MySpace followers by FRIENDING 100,000 MYSPACE ACCOUNTS. How much time does that take? What’s the opportunity cost? Same with Twitter, or searching out thousands of blogs, finding their emails and spamming them with a blanket email. Shit might’ve worked five years ago when the vast minority of bands were thinking about expanding a presence online… but now? F that. Screw that mess, write a song and go play it in public where real people can hear it. If it’s good, a response is likely to come.


    This could lead to another rant, further defining success, but I just wanted to raise that one small aspect of it.

  8. March 16, 2010 at 5:19 PM

    Chris, I love ya man!!! Rant away!!! By the way, here’s a good article my brother-in-law (in tech PR) tweeted – http://bit.ly/9PpVJ1 – that I think you may be interested in!

    I’ll tweet it at you, in case you are done with this post… CHEERS!

  9. March 16, 2010 at 5:55 PM

    “What I’m most troubled by is the desire of individuals (especially myself) to constantly check up on these numbers, and to accept these measurements as a measure of something meaningful.”

    that’s about it in a nutshell, isn’t it?

    I think that’s the real issue, taking this kind of stuff to heart. The worst thing someone can do when reading into their followers, friends, or whatever other social media metric it is that they’re looking at, is to believe that it’s an honest reflection of your standing in the given social environment; which often gets blurred with ‘reality’. Furthermore, taking it to make them feel bigger or smaller as a person, which is a crime against the mind.

    There are a lot of nice people who started blogging around the time I did (a quick glance at the elbo.ws forum and it’s easy to tell that things are no different now), and some took their comparative pageviews to mean something larger. Some changed for the worse, getting bitter about their lack of ‘following’ and some turned into elitist douchbags (which kinda makes me think that they were kinda like that to start, anyways). Like it affected their personal standing within the community (which is unfortunately true sometimes)… But the spark that gets the fire going in this situation is actually believing that it makes any sort of difference in the grand scheme of things. If you’re reaching ten, or a couple hundred people a day, or tens of thousands of people via your outlet, it really shouldn’t impact who you are. (That probably goes back to the ‘success’ thing earlier.) Maybe the method(s) which you express yourself, but it shouldn’t change the core. I’ve found myself caught in that trap before–I won’t lie like I haven’t–but I’m attempting to try to begin to identify the contrast between what we’re doing here and how little it truly matters in the rest of the world. It’s tricky.

    Someday I’ll be as old as you Tsuru… maybe I’ll have it all figured out by then :-)

  10. March 16, 2010 at 8:23 PM

    Tsuru–apropos of your observations… Byproducts of the machine!


    Cheers and enjoy the movie–Clif

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