On: “Hey Kids, Grow a Pair: How Indie Blogs Neutered Indie Rock”

Read this first: Hey Kids, Grow a Pair: How Indie Blogs Neutered Indie Rock

I’ve been forwarded this article a lot over the last 24 hours. I think because their blog is called “Your Music is Awful” automatically people who love/hate this blog think of me.

If I can summarize Kitty Vincent’s article:

– Music was the best when I was 12

– Some year end lists I read featured bands that had nothing in common with the bands I liked when I was 12

– Music being made popular post-9/11 doesn’t reflect the times we are living in.

– Smaller indie blogs parrot P4K

– Nirvana and L7 were cool in the 1990’s.

GRUNGE:

“Hey guys, remember when grunge changed everything?”

Thanks for the reminder VH1.

If you’ve been alive since grunge broke, and you have had any interest in music at all in that period, you would know that you don’t have to look very far to see that GRUNGE IS STILL ALIVE AND WELL.

To the point that I have become physically intolerant of it. As soon as I hear a band throw in some grunge elements, or even worse – take up the guise of a neo-Grunge act – I will go stand outside and wait for the set to be over like the grumpy asshat that I am.

You can’t miss it because it didn’t go away. It just moved north to Vancouver.

“nobody has bothered to notice their wagon train has been driving in a circle for roughly a decade now.” says Kitty. I’d peg that number at two decades.

INDIE MUSIC BLOGS / YEAR END LISTS

This point is a tad confusing too. I think I’ve complained about year-end lists (whilst posting my own) since the Internet picked up on year-end lists as link-bait. There are actually hundreds of thousands of year end lists every year, to the point of uselessness.

Here’s a trick: google your favourite album for the year, and then add “+year end lists.” Magic, you’ve just entered a WHOLE NEW WORLD! 

 While it is certainly true that little blogs are often parroting bigger blogs, but there are also as many mutually exclusive echo chambers. Try sticking your head in the Garage Punk echo-chamber, and a whole different hierarchy emerges that has no connection at all to the Pitchfork sphere or (even worse) the Radio3core/Starbucks-core sphere.

There are also blogs out there who are hacking away with a machete at the overgrowth of music and forging their own path. My advice: find these, because they will keep you from completely losing faith. I’ve got about a dozen or so that I trust and I’d say a good 50% of the music I end up buying comes as a direct result of these music writers with whom I have a good track record.

The real problem here isn’t the blogs, or the echo chambers, or the shitty year end lists: the real problem is how those echo chambers are fed, the next bigger piece I’m working on is all about scammy/scummy/hacky P.R. firms that, I think, are the real culprit. A P.R. hack is one of the four horsemen of the music apocalypse.

POPULAR MUSIC POST 9/11 DOES NOT REFLECT THE WORLD WE ARE LIVING IN

On one hand, I don’t think popular music will ever reflect the world we live in ever again. Those days are long gone.

Or maybe the popular music is EXACTLY reflecting the world we live in.

We use music for different reasons. We are more likely to hear it on headphones as a personal emotional soundtrack, and so music that can play that role well (neutered indie rock) will gain favour over music that forces us to confront our real problems.

Maybe things have gotten so bad that we use it like a balm.

FEAR

I had to take a mental break over the last few days, this dumb blog was taking over my life. Here’s a delayed response to some stuff that has come up over the last few days.

Factor responded, kind of, to this blog in a Globe and Mail article.

“Someone who just picked up a guitar, walked into our office and says ‘I’m ready to go’ can’t just get money.”

I was not arguing that FACTOR should allow musicians to step inside one of those wind boxes for a minute and stuff as much money in their shirt as fast as possible.

But, look at the approvals list, this argument could be shot down at least a hundred times with examples of bands who sound like they just picked up a guitar. WHICH IS FINE. Sometimes bands with rudimentary skills make the most compelling music.

There’s also scant evidence to support Lawton’s claim that insiders are lining their pockets.

We are looking at the same numbers right? The ones that FACTOR makes available on their website? Maybe someone better at spreadsheets/graphs can help me make a visual for this (serious), but the story that the numbers paint for me is a small number of business-class individuals and organizations who are getting the lion’s share of funding, and a long-tail of musicians getting a little. Leading to:

 “Money comes in, money goes out,” says Paper Bag Records owner Trevor Larocque. “It’s never my money – I wish.”

I’d actually like to clarify this part a bit: Paper Bag’s 1.5 million dollars of grant money was mostly tied directly to their stable of artists. In other words: FACTOR gave money to a Paper Bag artist for demos, recording, videos and promotional work, touring and so on. All in the name of… selling records.  So how is it never Paper Bag’s money again? It is dishonest playing this stuff off like they haven’t benefited from this system.

It is fine that Paper Bag and there stable gets some grant money. It is great that Dan Mangan was able to pull himself through the mud to come out the other side a winner.

But spread it out. Rethink. Think about the politics of giving Metric 20K for a video last month when they are on my Television with that awful BLUE JAYS song every.single.day. Great! FACTOR, you guys did a great job making them into superstars and you should be proud of yourselves for picking a winner. Move on.

__________

One thing I keep hearing in defense of FACTOR funding is that if we eliminate the funding, Canadian music will be swallowed up by our American counterparts, because FACTOR allows Canadian music to stay competitive. The same argument is often made about CanCon requirements.

The truth is grey. Canadian music will still be made and Canadian music will still get popular. Strict USA restrictions make it difficult for Canadian bands to play in the USA (and vice versa). As long as these border restrictions are in place, and as long as there are Canadian musicians, there will be a vibrant Canadian music.

Propping a few dozen bands/labels up with the majority of funding gives them a competitive advantage to ward off American music, but also (and most importantly) Canadian music.

Not sure if the people making the American imperialist argument has been in a record store lately, but this battle was lost years ago. Look at Record Store day this Saturday: out of the giant list of awful exclusive Record store day releases, there are six Canadian acts: Buck 65, Serena Ryder, Billy Talent, Tegan and Sara, Paper Beat Scissors and an Austra / Gina X collab 7”.

The fear is that we have to lie or obscure the truth because we’ve got to keep this thing going, which is a lie in itself.

Ingeneyus: AN OPEN LETTER INSPIRED BY PAUL K. LAWTON THAT NO ONE WILL READ

geneyusblog:

I applaud Paul K. Lawton. I don’t know the man and really have no drive to be or fear of not being in his good books. This is not a letter meant to defend or condemn his opinions. I’m just a fan. His observations make me laugh. Thought provoking with the emphasis on PROVOKING. Some may dismiss…

This is why we CAN have nice things.

Ingeneyus: AN OPEN LETTER INSPIRED BY PAUL K. LAWTON THAT NO ONE WILL READ

Dan Mangan Interviews The Guy Who’s Slagging Off the Canadian Music Industry

image

This Vice thing really gave me a big head yesterday (HUGE, you have to scroll for eight minutes to get to the text). This morning, Dan Mangan wrote me an open letter (read it here – you are welcome for the mad hits Dan).

Dan’s seems like the nicest guy in Canada, to the point that I had a hard time saying anything mean about him during this exchange:

VICE: Yeah, but just because I think Dan Mangan’s music sucks doesn’t mean he hasn’t created a successful business strategy.
PAUL: I would never argue that Dan Mangan shouldn’t be able to make a living.

Dan, I stuck up for you!!

Here are some quick responses to Dan’s open letter, formatted it so it looks like he is interviewing me. 

Dan Mangan (DM): Based on what I can gather about you, I do agree with some aspects of your general beef. However, I think your frustration is misdirected.

Paul Lawton (PL): I am actually curious about what you do agree with Dan, but lets hear the rest first.

DM: FACTOR doesn’t give money to bands to line their pockets. FACTOR gives money to 2-star hotels, shitty diners, toll-road attendees, gas stations, publicists, record stores, record distributors, record labels (including small “true” indies), van mechanics, guitar shops, camera operators, recording engineers, dingy basement recording studios, graphic designers, poster illustrators and a billion other variables in the world of a touring band. Bands don’t live off of FACTOR, they live off of the audiences that FACTOR helps bands to attain in a third party kind of way (hopefully).

PL: In an ideal world, I would hope that this is the case.

DM: You’re pointing the finger at bands that you don’t like. Their success is frustrating because you find that their art isn’t in line with what you want to hear. It’s frustrating because they have large audiences, and other bands that you prefer have smaller audiences.

PL: Again, as I said in the Vice interview, it really doesn’t matter what I think about Metric, so I think you are missing my point a little. What I say in the interview doesn’t make a lot of sense, so let me clarify: it is true that I have my own taste and opinions about what is or is not “good music.” But so does FACTOR, so does CBC, so does Exclaim! and so on. Those institutions have a lot of power to define mass taste, and that power ends up creating a very specific ‘object’ – in this case, the object can be defined as “RADIO3CORE” a specific kind of “indie rock” that gets replicated over and over again because young bands think that if they want to succeed they have to make a certain kind of music. The FACTOR approvals, to me, prove this point in that the bands with the most funding – yourself included, make a very specific kind of music. 

DM: What you’re mad at isn’t FACTOR, it’s fucking LIFE.

PL: Whoa, hold on. I’m not mad at FACTOR! I am pointing out flaws in the system that favour insiders, businessmen and business-minded musicians at the expense of a more equitable system that favours a healthier system. I believe that the milquetoast that is Canadian music is a direct result of milquetoast being rewarded culturally and financially thought FACTOR, CMW, CBC and so on.

DM: You seem like a genuinely smart guy.

PL: Thanks! *blush

DM: Your wits and talents and lust to critique the scads of endless bullshit that we face in modern society would be better suited toward a myriad of more deserving causes. The WORLD is full of things like patriarchy, nepotism, insider exclusion, old boy networks, suffering, unfair power systems, sexism, racism, blah blah blah.

PL: For the record Mr. Mangan, I actually agree with you here. Here is my social justice resume. Do you think I am happy to still be talking about FACTOR? No.

  • In my current day job, I get paid to educate people about global warming. I would kill to have the visibility this dumb tumblr account has had over the last few days for the topic of my real job – global warming actually means something. But that is life and that is partly why I’m FURIOUS at it as you suggest.
  • When I was a student at the University of Lethbridge, I battled the student newspaper for an entire semester about how they were creating a culture of rape acceptance. That was fun, the paper used their power made fun of me for an entire year.
  • I helped run an NDP campaign in SOUTHERN ALBERTA. We did really great too, we came in second place and only lost by 30,000 votes!
  • I was a primary caregiver to individuals with disabilities for thirteen years. I still talk to those guys all the time. I have a big heart.
  • I protested the G8 Summit in Calgary in 2003. It was stupid and a waste of time.
  • I own every Propagandhi record
  • I used to be a Sociology professor (look it up!)

Apparently, there is also room in my head for some ideas about the Canadian music system. From your list, I see: insider exclusion, old boy networks and unfair power system. In what world is the highest funded rapper WHITE, MALE and CHRISTIAN? That makes absolutely no sense to me on so many levels.

DM: I’ve met a handful of people at FACTOR, and just like you, they’re doing everything they can to maybe make an impact for the better given the inherent institutional /societal boxes that surround them.

PL: Dan Mangan, you are right again. Good people surely work at FACTOR. That doesn’t mean that the system isn’t painfully flawed.

DM: Despite your keen understanding of culture, I actually seriously doubt that you could do a better job. FACTOR is juggling an endless political quagmire of public policy changes, cultural changes, and the need to rationalize its existence to the government based on track record (ie: “Look what we did with Metric! It’s working!”) whilst trying to continually invest in young unknown bands (ie: “They could be the next Metric!”)

PL: Here is where our paths diverge Dan. First of all, I could totally do a better job. In fact, put me to work anywhere and I will do a better job than anyone! I’m just that good.

Now I have to be careful: Metric probably has enough money to hire a hitman or something, especially after their new Blue Jays song that makes me want to Van Gogh my ears. The Blue Jays probably paid METRIC a LOT of $$$ for that song, so how is it that they just got another 20K in FACTOR funding for a video last month? Wouldn’t it be BETTER if FACTOR could say “Look what we did with 50 bands from all across Canada! It’s working!!”

DM: Is this really the biggest fish you can fry? Sometimes the world sucks, and you’ve chosen to shit all over the one fucking public institution that could help you broadcast your cultural frustrations.

PL: Not the biggest fish, but it is a fish and I love cooking. I’m not sure how this comes back to “the world just isn’t fair”? Of course it isn’t. Also, I’ve done fine so far without public funding with this nifty little thing called THE INTERNET, which has benefited both my music and my big mouth. I don’t need FACTOR funding to broadcast my cultural frustrations, and the very fact that you are writing me an open letter proves that point.

DM: I’m assuming your general disdain for humanity makes its way into your music.

PL: You assume wrong. I don’t have a general disdain for humanity: just shitty music. Wait, there is that nasty subjectivity again – what I think of as shitty music! When I was teaching Sociology, a bunch of my students skipped class to go see your concert in Calgary. I said “I can’t believe you are skipping my class to go see a shitty Dan Mangan concert.” At the time, I had no idea if your music was shitty or not. I just said it because I thought it sounded funny. 

DM: What would be daring is to actually walk the walk, make some amazing music and get out there, play a billion gigs and inspire people to find truth and honesty rather than settle for mediocrity.

PL: What are you saying? That I make shitty music? That I settle for mediocrity? Perhaps. I don’t happen to think so.

DM: I get a lot more truth out of listening to The Constantines than reading about why Canadian music sucks. Action speaks a lot louder than words.

PL: Hey, I like the Constantines too! Bry Webb is the best. I wish more people were into his solo stuff, next-level good.

DM: You’re painting a picture where the ratty punk bars your band plays are the only places where truth can live. Sometimes it does live there. But for god sakes, man, open your eyes.

PL: To tell you the truth, we don’t usually play ratty punk bars, because ratty punk bars have a really hard time staying in business. I’m like anyone, I love going on the road, not living like a pig-person, staying in a hotel sometimes, maybe even eating the occasional meal. Have you ever eaten the burritos at Amigos in Saskatoon? So good. There is as much bullshit fakery in the small clubs as there are in the larger venues, my eyes are wide open to that truth.

(sorry Dan, I skipped some stuff because you lost me a bit and also I got bored of doing this).

DM: (insert story of how you made it)

PL: Again, I’d like to refer you to how I stuck up for you against VICE MAGAZINE.

DM: (insert story about how Vice is out of touch)

PL: I don’t read Vice unless my picture is 1000×1000 px as a the header.

DM: But if you really want to make a difference, cultivate a scene of thoughtful, truth-seeking musicians who give a shit and go ahead and make incredible music. I promise it will make you happier than sitting around refreshing your twitter feed, waiting defensively to refute all the venom you no doubt are now affronted by. You just might catch more flies with honey than vinegar, my man.

PL: Oh how little you must think of me! This is actually the most refuting I’ve done because I find so bizarre that you wrote this open letter to me, but I’m weirdly flattered by it at the same time. Without getting into specifics because I’m worried that the shit smear I’ve created with this blog will rub off on them, I’ve definitely worked really hard to create a scene of thoughtful, truth-seeking musicians. I’m not sure that it makes me more or less happier than refreshing my twitter feed because NOTHING IS MORE FUN THAN REFRESHING TWITTER.

Sadly, this dumb tumblr is proof that you catch more flies with vinegar. This fact is depressing to me too.

DM: Drop me a line any time. And when The Ketamines come to Vancouver, I’ll come see the show. I’ll even let you copy my successful FACTOR applications.

PL: I won’t do that because can you IMAGINE how awkward that would be for the both of us? BUT, if you insist, Ketamines are playing in Vancouver or JUNE 15 at a venue called JOHN (1870 Pandora S, entry in the alley) with some AMAZING BANDS like Vancouver favs The Ballantynes, Warm Soda (from Oakland, really great band), Zebrassieres from Ottawa and my favourite new band out of Vancouver TOUGH AGE. I will guarantee that your name is on the guest list and that I’m actually really nice in person, especially if you bring those applications.

<3 Paul

A Grant-Writer Responds

Zack Leighton wrote me yesterday to address some of the items I brought up in the FACTOR post. Worth a read for sure.

“For the sake of all those questions, I pointed out a few things that I didn’t entirely agree with. Not at all as a jab but more to ease some minds and perhaps give a new angle. To be honest, I am actually one of the grant writers behind some of those top success stories until I left my last employer.”

Zack posted the following on his Facebook wall:

Anyone interested in what’s happening on the FACTOR frontier should read this but there are a few things to consider:

1. FACTOR has drastically changed their entire system including new portals, new program guidelines, changes to eligibility and a complete cut to some of their largest programs including DBA (The Direct Board Approval Sound Recording Program) status. A program that arguably was swayed in the favour of major artists and labels.

2. You do not need to match the most of FACTOR’s grants in order to have a successful budget. Typically these grants supplement 75% of total budget up to a certain amount.

3. This article largely discounts that many of the labels and artists it is pointing fingers at continuously apply after disapproval. It also does not present non-approval ratings in a clear variance.

4. This article only refers to FACTOR and does in some ways allude to the idea that it is Canada’s only and main granting organization. We have arts councils, MIAs, Starmaker, OMDC, travel and tourism boards, SOCAN – the list goes on. FACTORs mandate IS to support independent musicians as much as it is to support major artist and companies. Largely their focus is to stimulate commercially viable artistic growth for economic value.

5. FACTOR puts heavy emphasis on sales, distribution, soundscan numbers etc because they are indeed funding mainly commercially viable artists and active for profit companies. That being said, FACTOR recognized distribution is not at all unattainable for independent artists. Indie Pool offers it and many artists have been successful using IPs service for FACTOR

6. The main FACTOR board may be made of executives that in the past have been incredibly successful with FACTOR but the jury process remains open to the public. Conflict of interest is taken seriously and without DBA it makes matters even more clean cut. Using the geographical distance basis as a signal of corruption is a moot point given that a large portion of Canada’s industry is based in Toronto. CCA is based in Ottawa and hands out a ton of money to Toronto artists.

7. Like all of the granting agencies, FACTOR is a difficult process and while the new rating system is also convoluted, it’s still necessary. Under the flashy exterior, these are in essence government documents leading to a potential investment in art, culture and the economy. It takes time and serious consideration on behalf of the applicant. All requirements are stated and if there is any confusion, I’ve personally never had an issue that can’t be resolved or at least addressed.

Some of the solutions in this article are notable. I think there is room for serious revision within FACTOR. This article is fairly well laid out and written and I believe the writer has done his research but there are still many holes. Musicians and business owners alike can definitely learn from this – worth a read.


I’ve been pouring over the new FACTOR program requirements to follow up the number one critique of my FACTOR post, namely “FACTOR just changed, so all of this is a waste of time. Things will be 100% better now.” Which I think will be highly unlikely.

Thanks for the thoughtful response Zack!

Factor Responses

The Factor article is still generating crazy hits, but the other side is absolutely quiet. I guess the best defense is to shut up and hope that the criticism goes away. I know for a fact that the people who I directly implicated have seen it, but the closest to an acknowledgement is the drummer from Broken Social Scene calling me a “brave motherfucker.”

Which is kind of sad in a way. It shouldn’t take “bravery” to point out the truth. Shows how far we’ve gone down this rabbit hole: afraid to speak up out of fear of bursting the bubble.

Aaron Levin, the mastermind behind Weird Canada, a guy who I value as a dear friend (and who has been the most vocal critic of this blog, a testament to the strength of our friendship) pointed out on twitter the other day that the single best fix for FACTOR is to stop funding bands and businesses, and start funding services:

“Fund the eco-system that produces art: fund venues, fund open/public studios, fund jam spaces, fund recording education, fund transportation. Avoid the sticky issues surrounding “subjectivity” by empowering *everyone* to produce art.”

I think that this is exactly correct. Weird Canada just got a large FACTOR grant to start one such service – the WYRD DISTRO, which is a service that will allow smaller/niche bands and microlabels to distribute their physical goods with minimal interference from middlemen.

How it works: you send the distro a few of your tapes, CDRs, 7”s (or whatever), Weird Canada puts them on an online database, and when music lovers or record stores buy them, the money is automatically put the money aside for you. Weird Canada’s consignment fee is $1, and because they are a registered Non-profit, the money will go to new, artist-friendly programs. Win-win.

Not to reiterate the point for the millionth time – but it was never my intention to say that FACTOR is evil, but to point out how it has been co-opted by savvy businessmen at the expense of Canadian music in general. We get the systems we deserve, and I believe that we deserve better.

Thou shalt not tiptoe quietly towards death.

Grayson Matthews ft. Andrew Austin

If you’ve been on Youtube in the last week, you’ve seen the Alexander Keith’s commercial featuring “Toast This Life” (say “Toast This Life” out loud and try not to throw up on yourself)

Every time I hear it, I want to punch my own ticket.

Grayson Matthews is not a musician, they are an ad agency based in Toronto, “a collective of artists who create award-winning original music & sound design.” Which means that “Toast This Life”  was engineered to sound like a Mumford & Sons song to be used in a beer commercial. Because it is probably pretty expensive to license a Mumford song right now, and it isn’t as if that band is reinventing the wheel anyway.

“Toast This Life” is kind of above critique. A lot of musicians pretend to tap their souls to make music that just-so-happens to be highly commercial. Grayson Matthews are an AD AGENCY. A good one at that – “Toast This Life” has been charting in the top 10 on iTunes over the last week, which means that people heard this song and were excited that they could buy it and listen to it whenever they wanted to.

Except commercialized sincerity is the worst. There is nothing about this enterprise that doesn’t make me cringe, and you already know how I feel about the “oohhohhoohhh oohhh oooh oh” chorus, a shortcut to commercialized sincerity circa 2004.