All right, here’s another one for all the broke artists out there! It’s the beginning of a new year, and following the holidays, there’s a strong chance the wad of cash under your bed is looking thinner than it normally does this time of month. Time for some budget eating.
Stir-fries have always been one of my go-to cheap meals. I usually make a super-large batch in one go so I can have it at the ready for a number of meals and save food prep time. Vegetables and tofu are very budget-friendly — especially if you have a good produce shop nearby that undercuts the local supermarket. The priciest element you’ll have is most likely to be a store-bought sauce. So it’s even better if you can circumvent the bottled sauces entirely and come up with something just as tasty on your own.
I like a good peanut sauce as much as anyone. But for ages, I rarely reached for it to add to a stir-fry or noodle dish, for a pretty boring reason: I found peanut sauce to be annoying. It was annoying that the good stuff often cost more money at the grocery store than other sauce varieties, even from the same brand. It was annoying that the good, but cheaper, stuff seemed to be continually in and out of stock. It was annoying that the recipes I found frequently involved 30,000 steps and maybe a food processor and too many utensils to justify making it as often as I wanted to eat it. It was annoying that the quick and easy recipes often tasted like barely-dressed-up peanut butter.
It’s a Friday night down at your local rock club, or maybe a Wednesday. Who even knows anymore? You’ve played at this place six times in the last nine months, and the crowd is still made up of seven of your friends, five of the other band’s friends, and three or four randos sitting at the bar at the back of the room. This is getting a bit tiresome, and you’re wondering how many times you’re going to need to drag your gear down here before anyone you don’t know decides to care about your music. You pack up your guitar, step offstage, and walk toward the bar.
The bartender is pouring you a draught when one of the randos turns to you and sizes you up. “You all put on a great show,” they say. “But these days, if you want to build up an audience fast, you gotta be on the internet. You can do it all on the internet. Are you on TikTok?”
You’ve heard this before, and you know there’s a strong enough chance this person has never actually been on TikTok themselves. But that’s beside the point.
I’m taking a few seconds right now to consider how my social media habits have changed over this past year. Of course they’ve changed, because the discourse on pretty much all of the major social platforms has been changing. You can adapt, or not.
Basically, the way I’ve adapted is by steering clear of other people’s threads unless I can bring something unique to the table. And the way I need to continue adapting is by not simply taking my two cents to forums where I appear slightly more anonymous. An interesting thought deserves to find its proper place, and finding that place often takes time. If it’s actually an idea that deserves its proper place, the wait is worth it.
One practice I’m really glad I leaned into this year is: Whenever I feel compelled to post anything on any social platform, I ask myself whether it stands to reason that someone else who has better knowledge of the subject has already said the same thing, more articulately and authoritatively. Usually I’ll presume someone else has. Sometimes I’ll Google an entire phrase that pops into my head and find someone else said the same thing years ago. I’m just not here to post timeline white noise bs that makes me look dumb.
I’m especially wary about adding to the white noise because so many people I used to interact with heavily on Facebook and Twitter have been scarce on the socials in 2022.
It’s been a pretty wild couple weeks in the ad-supported digital media business, and unlike most of what happens in this business, they’re things I can actually talk about outside of work without risking putting anyone to sleep. There are always 30,000 things going on on the business side of the internet – and while a lot of them feel urgent, they usually move pretty slowly, and most people outside of the industry don’t even need to notice them happening.
But with Elon Musk buying Twitter and a ton of big-money advertisers pausing their spending on the platform – this is different. The platform, its owner, the advertiser brands are all recognizable entities, and they seem to be doing things incredibly quickly. It’s very rare for a story about the business side of the digital media business to make front-page headlines. My day job is *~*developing content*~* for advertising technology companies, and people who do this kinda stuff for a living generally understand we can’t talk about it at parties. It’s more than most people really want or need to know about the back end of the internet. But while the general-interest coverage of the internet often focuses on relatively abstract things like civility, the tone of content on social platforms and in other media, this Twitter stuff shines a light on the path that leads from tone directly to dollars. And if you think there are a lot of words devoted to this stuff in general-interest media, you should see the ad industry trade publications. They’re popping off, because Musk just can’t stop doing things that are bad for Twitter’s ad business.
There are a lot of updates that seem to flit by like side notes in the general-interest narrative, but are truly BFDs in the ad-supported media biz – and a lot of those storylines deserve to be explained in slightly more detail than general-interest news outlets generally explain them. So I wanted to take a minute to dig into some of those elements that are already impacting Twitter’s ad business. [In reality, this’ll take more than a minute, because there’s just too much. – ed.] The impact is not hypothetical, it’s not a future thing, it’s here now, and it likely will be for some time.
If you’ve been following along on this blog even a little bit, or if you know me offline, you probably know I’ve been the lead singer and primary songwriter of a band called Shelter Dogs since 2013. I kept that name going through three entirely different lineups – name recognition is good for a band, and I like having a back catalog consolidated in one place. But this year, we’ve been forced to change our name for legal reasons. Now this band is called Safe Houses.
I can’t say a band name change was on my agenda when I started planning for our 2022 spring and summer. We were eager to jump back into gigging and releasing new material, after the unpredictability of the previous couple years. The previous lineup of the band had recorded an EP in 2021, the release of which we paused until we had a new gigging lineup together. In March, I was squaring away the details of its release. We had a few options to explore, but one way or another, it was going to be a higher-profile release than our 2019 EP. We also had a music video shoot on the horizon for later in the spring, to accompany a stand-alone single separate from the EP itself. The new lineup hit the stage with a handful of new songs intended for our next EP. We were booking shows at venues we’d never played before. In a few words, we were doing everything a band was supposed to be doing after dropping a couple EPs and gigging regularly.
Then we got a cease and desist letter from attorneys representing a guy who holds a registered trademark on the name “Shelter Dogs” for the purposes of performing and releasing music.
After you’ve spent about 30 to 45 seconds involved in making and distributing music, you start to recognize something important: The music “business” (whatever that means) is not a pure meritocracy. There is no consistent correlation between quality and popularity of music. While no one is guaranteed to get any breaks, it would appear that a music act has a greater chance of getting their breaks if they have a personal connection to someone who can give them a broader platform – a record label owner, or a talent buyer or booking agent at a primo club. If you’re out grinding in the clubs, you may notice that there are really good bands that have a very difficult (and slow) time building up an audience made up of almost entirely of people they met through gigging, and that there are bands that can draw large crowds made up of people who are already in their large social circles, even if the band has just started playing out.
It can be frustrating to think about how some bands seem to be doing great thanks in large part to something other than the music itself.
And for a lot of musicians (and music fans), that frustration can gradually turn to fatalism. In time, you may find yourself griping, “It’s all about who you know, anyway, so unless you’re well-connected, you’re doomed from the start.”
Out here in 2022, we’re about 15 years into the ostensible Cassette Revolution* – well past the point where it could reasonably be considered a “revolution.” Tapes are just part of what we’re doing now, as a culture, or whatever. There are countless independent labels out there that specialize in tapes. Major labels are issuing runs of cassettes for albums by million-selling acts. There are lively online forums dedicated to cassette culture.
And yet, if you mention on social media or in a normie setting that you’re putting out a tape release, someone is bound to say: “Tapes? Seriously?!”
Yeah, seriously. It’s not nostalgia. It’s not irony. As far as I’m concerned, cassette is the most sensible physical medium for a gigging local/regional band to mess with. For a lot of active bands, it’s the only physical medium worth messing with. Tapes are the best thing to happen to a touring band’s merch table in recent memory.
It’s a slow Thursday night at your neighborhood rock club, and you’ve just stepped offstage after an admittedly killer set by your Promising Local Band. You’re trying to suss whether that’s just your ego talking or if you’ve actually managed to hit the Good Enough to Get Signed by a Label level. That’s the goal, in any case – get signed to a record label, turn pro, go out on the road for six months, come back home to write and record the next album, and that’s what your life will be like for the next x years. You amble over to the end of the bar, where this slightly older guy is sitting, and he tells you exactly what you want to hear:
“You all sounded amazing. You’re as good as any signed band out there. Won’t be long until you’ll never have to play a half-empty club again. All you have to do is get signed, and that’ll change everything for you.”
Spoken like someone who’s never been “signed.”
Don’t get me wrong – being on a record label can often present opportunities to a musician that would have been more challenging to access without label support.
You’re around here reading about “music” and “the arts” and “the creative process” and stuff like that, huh? Well, LET ME GUESS — you’ve got like a dollar, you’re looking for some food to cook on the cheap, and you’d also rather not stand around doing hands-on cooking shit for an interminable length of time because you have other shit to do. Good news; you’re IN THE RIGHT PLACE, because I was very accustomed for years and years to doing EVERYTHING on the cheap, and I have some ideas. Including — THIS MEATLESS CHILI that I’ve had in my life ever since I was in college, mere weeks after I moved off campus into a crappy apartment with two of my bandmates.
This is gonna solve some of your problems, provided you like beans and tomatoes. If you don’t like those things, you’re not in the right place after all; sorry.
Everyone hates “origin stories” in recipe blogs, including me, BUT: Credit where credit is due.
So, I have a few pet “theories” that I keep running in the background of my mind and pull out during those times when I need to let out a gigantic sigh and mutter, “All right, let’s be reasonable here,” or “All right, let’s put this in perspective.” The goal is always to keep things in context, avoid scapegoating anyone, refrain from getting overly emotional when you need to make good decisions, and avoid taking what you have for granted.
Also, I want to say “theories” is in quotes because most of these aren’t actually theories at all. They’re more like axioms or principles or something. But if millions of people want to use “theory” interchangeably (or even dominantly, which is sometimes how it sounds) with or related to those other terms, that’s fine by me. Let’s err on the side of comprehensibility.
One of those theories I think about a lot is something I call Ringo Theory. Here’s how Ringo Theory goes:
In every organization, one person will be always perceived as the “weak link,” even if they are not a weak link, but only appear weaker relative to others in the organization.