Saturday, March 27, 2010

No Mixtapes??

So, I have been putting pressure on myself lately to get a new mixtape up here on the blog, and I've really been feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of attempting such a thing. I didn't really know why...until I had a breakthrough this evening.

The musical renaissance I've been experiencing the last month or so has been great. The truth is that I am enjoying listening to albums ALL THE WAY THROUGH more than I have in a long time, maybe the better part of a couple of years. Not only would it be counter-intuitive to force myself to listen in a format that I am not currently drawn to, but the truth is that so much of this renaissance is about discovery, and getting to know new music (music that's NEW to me. Lots of catalog stuff that I've never checked out, plus newer stuff). And I've never been any good at putting music on a mixtape if it wasn't something that I had built up some attachment to. I am slowly building up attachments to some of the things that I've been grooving to for a few months, but I've got a long way to go.

This is one reason why I'm so excited about doing the radio show...I can use it to get to know records better, a song at a time. I mean, it's a little bit like making a mixtape every week, but it doesn't have to be quite as cohesive. The compilation tape rules are something that I take fairly seriously (at least, MY version of them), and so I am looking forward to creating some mixtapes later this year that are, shall we say, inspired by my radio show. The show will be as much about discovery for me as it is for you, the listener (I hope).

Meanwhile, it's records, records, records around this house. Vinyl, CD, MP3, whatever. A lot of it is scrobbling to my account, so go check out what's been on the box. The vinyl, unfortunately, does not scrobble, but that's okay.

One last thought...mixtapes, for me, can be all about dwelling on the past. If I make a mixtape with a bunch of songs that have meaning for me, but that meaning is mired in things of the past, how can I ever expect to live in the present? The present, finally, is filled with things that I'm excited about, and I think the music, and my level of enjoyment of it, is connected to that. I have lamented on this blog about the idea that music seemed so much more exciting when I was younger, that getting to know new records was easier then, that I was feeling like a curmudgeon in my present state...but the truth is that I can't get excited about the soundtrack to my current life (or making the soundtrack to my life current, as opposed to rehashing that of the past) unless I'm EXCITED about my CURRENT LIFE ITSELF.

Go back and read that sentence again. I'll type it again so you can: ...the truth is that I can't get excited about the soundtrack to my current life (or making the soundtrack to my life current, as opposed to rehashing that of the past) unless I'm EXCITED about my CURRENT LIFE ITSELF. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. EPK Review

So, there's a new website/social-musical network about to launch called (In the interest of full disclosure, I am going to have a radio show on their online radio network, called The Mixtape Jones Radio Hour.) Mike, the fearless creator and founder of JiveWired, asked me to go ahead and throw up an EPK for Dr. Pants, and I did. Now I'm gonna tell you what I think of it.

First of all, let's get the elephant in the room out of the way; the word EPK probably has an iffy connotation to it these days, thanks to Sonicbids. Sonicbids is a controversial thing amongst musicians currently...everyone has an opinion. I personally am not so fond of Sonicbids, and I'm glad, REALLY GLAD, to see someone else step into the game. There are all sorts of rumors flying around about what Sonicbids has and has not done, as well as some pretty infuriating statements that have been made by Sonicbids' founder at conferences, etc. (I've been personally privy to some of these), but I don't think that Sonicbids or what they've created was necessarily a bad idea. It's just not at its best right now, and hasn't been for a while. JiveWired will hopefully contribute to a more healthy marketplace in terms of EPKs, festival submissions, etc.

The JiveWired EPK appears to cover most of the ground necessary to a good EPK. The style/look is very clean and very approachable...there are no design elements that I take issue with in any way. The interface is very user-friendly (if you've ever set up a page for your band at any other sort of music networking site, setup will be a breeze for you), and, even though the site is still in beta testing, I experienced no issues or errors while uploading my content (this may seem fussy, but errors cost time, and time as an independent musician is ALWAYS at a premium).

I like that there's a discography, because that emphasizes the amount of actual MUSIC an artist has MADE, instead of how many dates they've played, etc. If you can't actually make a record, or several, I'm probably not interested in going to hear you play anyway (it's a culture thing...we need to do whatever we can to emphasize creativity in the culture, and not the infinite recycling of old models...cover bands, nostalgia tours, etc.). I also like the usability of the calendar feature, in that you just click on the date of the gig you want to enter and then just fill in the info. It REALLY helps prevent inadvertently entering incorrect dates for your shows. I do wonder, however, if there's any chance JiveWired will consider working with ArtistData or Reverb Nation (I'd prefer ArtistData) to enable uploading of a CSV file to fill out calendar dates (again, time is at a premium, and anything that can be done to reduce the number of sites upon which we have to fill out our calendars is a GOOD THING). If you don't know what I'm talking about, basically ArtistData not only syndicates your dates you enter on their site to your Facebook fan page, MySpace page, etc., it also currently enables you to quickly download a CSV file of all your tour dates and upload it to Sonicbids in a couple of clicks.

I like that the profile allows influences to be listed for each individual band member. Dr. Pants is a diverse little group of guys, and we actually don't have a lot in common in terms of our listening habits. We do, however, each have a lot of respect for where the others are coming from, and that's part of what makes the band work. I think it's cool to be able to list that, for me, Guided By Voices or Frank Zappa are an influence, but for Kenneth it's Van Halen, for Dustin it's Sufjan Stevens, and for Aaron it's Grand Funk Railroad. And for all of us, to some degree, it's Weezer (we do have a little common ground).

I do worry a bit that the EPK is sort of all on one page. I mean, there is a download option, of course, so I don't really know that anyone seriously considering booking you for a gig will do anything but that, but if not, are they going to scroll down through the bio and everything else to get to the music? Yes, there's a shortcut to it on the menu to the left, so maybe I should stop my worrying. I made a promise that I'd give an honest review, though, so that's what I'm doing. (Thumbs Up!)

Overall, I think Mike and the guys at JiveWired have done a good job. I don't know that they've necessarily reinvented the wheel here, but I don't know that it's asking to be completely reinvented. I do know, however, that the EPK market definitely needs competition, and that Sonicbids has gotten big enough that it needs to be chipped away at a bit. I think (although I'm not completely sure) that JiveWired's pricing will be a bit more affordable than Sonicbids, and that you will also get a free submission to one of the JiveWired radio shows (including mine, The Mixtape Jones Radio Hour) with your EPK setup. My show is going to (probably) be the most diverse show starting out, and will cover a lot of musical ground, so I wholeheartedly recommend that you send a submission my way (unless you are metal, really radio-friendly rock or pop, or mainstream rap...there will be other shows that work better for you).

Hope this review helps you, if you're considering posting an EPK. I'd say give JiveWired a chance.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Stax Museum & My Own Personal Renaissance

So, this last weekend K.C. and I went to Hot Springs, AR and Memphis, TN to perform. We performed in Hot Springs on Thursday and our Memphis gig wasn't until Saturday night, so we arrived in Memphis a day early to spend some time with our fabulous friend, Cindy. She had asked what we wanted to do or see in Memphis, and the only touristy thing I wanted to do was see the Stax museum.

If you don't know what Stax Records is, or who was on the label, PLEASE click the title of this entry and go check out the Stax museum website, or just Wikipedia that shit. Because you NEED to know. Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG's, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers...the face of 60's rough edged soul (as opposed to the extremely clean sound of Motown) and the sound of smooth 70's R&B and funk, Stax changed music forever. Their indelible contribution to pop music history is a beacon of awesome amongst the pop music mediocrity offered by the mainstream these days.

The museum is details how soul music came about as a mixture of blues, country and gospel, and how, without the gospel tradition, there would have been no soul, no R&B music. It talks about the raceless, colorless view that the Stax Records employees and artists employed in their business--the staff of the label contained blacks and whites, and the musicians were both black and white as well. A video in the museum also talks about how, after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, things were never the same--it was as if an illusion had been shattered, and the company never felt the same after that.

It's quite challenging for me to explain what I felt walking through the exhibits. I felt privileged to be there, and so full of emotion when confronted with the powerful nature of what Stax meant not only to music, but to civil rights, to the culture in which it found itself in the 60's. This music REALLY MEANS SOMETHING, and I don't think its value can be overestimated. I was close to tears multiple times walking through the museum, and when we left my heart was so full I feared it might burst at any moment.

It just so happens that this experience coincides with a bit of a renaissance musically for kind of ties into what I was talking about in my entry a few weeks ago when I talked about my friend Kyle playing songs off his iPod to me in the car (Adjusting My Bad Attitude...). I'm having a definite renaissance in terms of my listening, and I think it really ties in with an improvement in my emotional and spiritual well-being. I feel better, I'm happier, and so I'm enjoying music MORE, which makes me feel even better, and happier, so I enjoy the music EVEN MORE, which makes me feel better, and happier...It's an upward spiral that I am doing my best to foster.

I am hoping that this leads to a greater renaissance in terms of my creativity as well, but I'm not quite there yet. I have a couple of projects I need to see to their end (like getting out the Weird Files EP that has been sitting in the can for well over a year), and I think that will enable to me to think clearly and engage future creative projects (like the next Dr. Pants album!!) HEAD ON.

The Stax museum was INSPIRING. It is one of a number of inspiring experiences I've had lately, and I am truly grateful for that. I also want to say how grateful I am to still be doing music full time as K.C.'s husband, guitarist and business partner, and that I don't think any of the rest of this would be possible without that reality.

I hope to have a mixtape or two to post within the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, go find something new and exciting to listen to.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Subjective Cool

What is "cool" to you? More specifically, what is "cool" when it comes to music? Is cool something that you feel you aren't, because you don't like the things that everyone else seems to? Or is cool something else, something more personal, something that describes that which touches you, or blows your mind, or gets under your skin (in a good way)?

I find that "cool" to me ultimately means some variation on that last one. At least, when I am willing to let go of some of the bullshit foisted on me by the world at large, that's what "cool" means. I'll tell you a story. When I was very young, a small child, no one ever told me that "cool" really meant some sort of status quo in regards to fashion, art, entertainment, culture, etc. "Cool" to me just seemed to mean "that which you get excited about, or that which excites YOU." Not anyone else, just you. "Cool", for me, was always something subjective (the truth is that the other cool is subjective, too, but no one wants you to know that. It's a secret they never tell you, you have to find out for yourself). The clothes I wanted to wear? Cool. The toys I wanted to play with? Cool. The music I wanted to listen to? Cool. At some point around age 12, the world around me started to inform me that it strongly disagreed with my assessment of these things. This stressed me out for a few years, but then I pretty much adjusted.

Maybe "cool" doesn't mean this for you, but it does for me. The coolest moments are the ones in which I find something that I feel like I've always been looking for, or something that feels like it was made for me. It's how I felt when I first heard the Beatles as a kid, or when I first read Douglas Adams. It was absolutely how I felt when I began really getting into Frank Zappa in college. Like this whole world was opening up, begging me to come sit in it. I didn't have to be anything else other than what I truly was in there, and that, by God, was COOL. The people who expect/desire us to conform to some sort of cultural or behavioral rubric in order to fit into some larger, cultural definition of "cool" could learn a thing or two from the things that truly touch us and work their way into our lives. Those things, those pieces of music, art, literature, whatever, don't expect anything of us other than to come to them as we are. It is no coincidence that people find the spiritual in these things, because they share this characteristic with the divine. Find the things that you truly connect with, without having to change yourself. That's cool, but it's a billion times more, too.