It’s simple, kids!
(This is why they make me work in the basement with the computers and not teach actual classes.)
Whether we’re talking writing, art, music or filmmaking, word of mouth is key to a creator’s survival. Someone could write the most amazing piece of literature ever put to paper, but it won’t make a lick of difference if only three people read it.
Sure, advertising and marketing help, but they can only go so far. How many over-hyped blockbuster flops have we seen the past several years? Once word gets out the plot sucks, the acting is terrible, and the flick is just plain boring, it doesn’t matter how much money the studio threw at the advertising department.
What needs to happen is those first three people need to tell everyone they know how incredible the creation they just experienced is. Sure, I’ll settle for them telling three more people each, but if you finish the last track on an album and say, “Wow, that was awesome,” then you need to tell everyone. Remember the true meaning of awesome? Something that fills you with awe. Something awe-inspiring, not just, “Yeah, that was pretty good.”
Which brings me to Clutch. They’re not exactly a small band, but it surprises me how few people have heard of them. They have their own label, they tour like crazy, and they get some play on satellite radio, but I have yet to hear them on any terrestrial radio stations. They first came close to mainstream with their “Electric Worry” playing in the background of commercials for the Left 4 Dead game series.
They deserve more exposure. Their songwriting and studio work is damn good, but the awesome part comes during their live shows. These guys kill it on stage. No spectacle or flashy lights and pyro, just some damn fine playing, and most of the time in small, intimate clubs where you can get up close, like so:
I first discovered them when they opened for Pantera fifteen or so years back at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. They performed most of their first full-length album, and I distinctly remember “Rock & Roll Outlaw”. Even today it’s one of my favorite tracks, and it’s not unusual to catch my kids singing it. (For a while it was my middle son’s most-requested song in the car.)
I mention Clutch now because they just released a new album, Earth Rocker, last month. You need it. Their work is primarily rock, with their earlier work leaning toward hard rock, but they also have a strong blues influence that comes to the surface from time to time. Take, for example, “Gone Cold” off Earth Rocker:
Love it. Yet you still get their songs influenced by cars and science fiction, like “Crucial Velocity”:
I’m looking forward to hearing these tracks live. They’re going to be playing the House of Blues in Chicago on Friday, April 12th, but it’s not looking like I’ll be able to make it. Fortunately I caught them at a small club in Joliet back in November, so I at least got my fix.
Even if these particular tracks don’t catch your ear, check out some of their other albums. They have a real range to their music, and there’s sure to be something for everyone. In fact, I’ll leave you with another of my favorites, “The Regulator” off of Blast Tyrant.
That may actually sound familiar to some of you. Remember when I said their first flirting with the mainstream was “Electric Worry”? Well, “The Regulator” saw airtime during an episode of The Walking Dead.
Boom. Now it’s clicking.
This morning my man Jack Drew asked the Twitterers for suggestions for music to write to. I immediately offered up my go-to writin’ music, the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack.
I often prefer soundtracks and instrumental work. Danzig’s Black Aria is another one, or Pink Floyd’s Animals. Sometimes I’ll let the ambient noise of Ghosts I-IV from Nine Inch Nails fly. Surf guitar, like Los Straitjackets, works well. After a while I stop hearing the music anyway, and I let iTunes shuffle or I’ll pick a song and let it build a Genius playlist for me.
There are times I’ll shoot for a particular feel, though. I still adopt “Wolves & Werewolves” from The Pack A.D. as the unofficial theme song for Lie with the Dead (or even my entire Pack series), and iTunes will run with it and build me a good blues-rock mix with a little Rage Against the Machine for spice.
Time to write something steamy? I don’t always need music to get me in the mood, but one that always works is Tito & Tarantula’s “After Dark” off the From Dusk ‘Til Dawn soundtrack. Why that song? Observe:
I’ll always take a sleazy guitar riff over the old school R&B. It just works.
Am I still talking about writing? Right. Moving on.
Action scenes, I might queue up some punk or metal. Sometimes spoken word will pop through a shuffle, like something from Henry Rollins, but I have to hit skip so I don’t end up listening to it instead of writing.
Whatever the sound, having music on works. If I find myself procrastinating by surfing websites or fooling around on some social networking time suck, I will open up iTunes and just hit play. It’s almost a trigger for me. A Pavlovian reaction that goes “this happens, now I do this.” It’s not quite as effective as sitting down with a cigar and the iPad on the front porch, but it gets the job done.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time I fire up Pages and rock out.
I’m working on The Pack: Lie with the Dead and jamming some tunes. When this song shuffled on, I cranked it up.
That’s Faith No More’s “The Zombie Eaters”. In fact, just buy the whole album. It’s brilliant.
I like rock and metal, but half the stuff that wakes me up on the clock radio makes me want to strangle the DJ. I’ve taken to calling it emo metal because all some of these bands seem to do is whine. They’re like shitty, open-mic poets after someone taught them a handful of chords.
“Stop cutting yourself and play this. Chicks dig it.”
And then we were all doomed.
Back to work.
Realized tonight there’s not near enough surf guitar music on my iPod. Bummer.
It’s been nine years since Metallica launched their crusade against Napster. Since then we’ve also seen the MPAA and RIAA shit their respective beds, Sony’s assault on consumers, the DeCSS controversy, and the rise and fall of DRM.
Through that time, I’ve been wondering when the same behavior would hit the publishing industry. The Google Book Search brouhaha came first, and it was subsequently settled. Now we have the Kindle 2 and the controversy over its text-to-speech capabilities. Neither of these have been as bloody as the music and movie entertainment battles, but they amount to the same thing: a given body fighting change they don’t understand.
And the worst part is they’ve been through this before. Why aren’t the industries learning from their mistakes? Why aren’t they partnering with digital innovators instead of trying to crush them?
It also bothers me that it’s never been proven that all this digital bootlegging has been detrimental to the industry (in fact at least one study shows file sharing does not affect music sales). They see X number of people downloaded an album/movie or may have read a book on Google, and they claim it’s Y lost dollars. Meanwhile, they have no idea how many of those people turned around and bought a copy of the real thing. They have no idea how many of them enjoyed the item and told all their friends about it, and how many of those friends turned around and bought copies.
The music and movie industries are coming around, finally doing away with DRM and coming to agreements with distributors and retailers to get their product out in such a way the consumer won’t get screwed. I shudder to think of how much money they wasted on lawsuits, studies, and encryption/restriction research that ultimately failed.
With luck the publishing industry will step up before it’s too late. Guys like Cory Doctorow give away their books in multiple electronic formats, yet still sell enough copies that Tor Books is wiling to publish his work in hardcover. That may not be a common situation, but it shows that it can be done without harming sales.
For my own work, I know for a fact Werewolves: Call of the Wild showed up on several torrent sites. Did that have a negative effect on my sales? I sincerely doubt it. I’m much more concerned about the number of people who told me they ordered copies but their comic shop never received them. That tells me if I want to be read, I can’t rely solely on the current distribution model.
Whether we’re talking books, movies, comics, or music, they’re all about one thing: grabbing ears and eyeballs. If you can get enough people to pay attention, you’re going to make a profit, regardless of how the product is getting to those ears and eyeballs and how much they’re paying for it. Theft, be it shoplifiting or digital distribution, comes with the territory. It’s a cost of doing business, and publishing has been lucky to get a free pass for this long.
Keep in mind, people are not afraid to pay for their entertainment. Take movie ticket prices, for example. I spent $27 for the Midget and I to see Monsters vs. Aliens: $9 for each ticket and the 3D glasses and another $9 for a medium popcorn and medium drink. People bitch about that, but you know what? The theater was packed, despite all the whining about the economy. Or consider the Kindle: it’s essentially a $359 bookshelf. If Kindle books average $6 a pop for titles available in mass market paperback for $8, you’d have to purchase 180 books to break even. Nevertheless, everyone I know who owns a Kindle raves about it to anyone who will listen.
Content creators who want to make a living on their properties need to concentrate on earning those eyeballs and eardrums. We need to market ourselves as best we can, and if our publishers are unwilling or unable to leverage new technologies to get our work out to our fans in every way possible, then we need to make sure our contracts allow us to do it ourselves.
I’m ripping more CDs from my collection today, and I stumbled across a band I haven’t thought of in a while: Living Colour. I remember they were huge for a while, and their performance of “Cult of Personality” on SNL kicked all form of ass.
Then I remembered this little number:
I always dug that song and video, because I really don’t understand the Elvis Phenomena.
That’s right, capital P on Phenomena. I’m not a big fan, but I will admit the man had talent and had a big influence on music. But to elevate him to cult status? Come on.
Some people just don’t know when to let go.
When I first heard Kid Rock’s “So Hott”, the opening chords really caught my attention. I was in the car, and after a few seconds I reached down and turned up the radio. The intro rolled on for a while, and I got pumped up waiting for the song to really kick in.
Then the first line came: “You’ve got a body like the Devil and you smell like sex.”
Body like the Devil? Really? The first thing I thought of was St. Wolfgang and the Devil:
Now that just screams sexy, doesn’t it? Especially that ass.
Sadly, the song just goes dowhill from there. If you read through the lyrics, it’s not a big leap to translate it to “I’m going to take you home, get you drunk, screw your brains out, and kick you to the curb.” I realize there are some women that may work with, but I’m not sure it’s a good tribute to the woman you love. (Maybe that’s why his darling Pammy bailed for Rick Salomon.)
As for the music, I think he took a page from the Lenny Kravitz Guide to Music: find a hook and play it over and over and over and over and over and over and over, throw in a solo, return to the hook, play over and over and over and over and over and over. Disagree? Take another listen to “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and “Bring It On” and you’ll hear it. Kid Rock’s hook is just longer.
I often make fun of pop and country stars for not writing their own material, but sometimes it would appear there’s a reason for it.