Oct 27, 2010

One Man Bland.

Dear AAP:
I don't think anyone is ever going to understand what I'm trying to do musically. I gave up on playing in bands because it was impossible to get everyone on actually show up for rehearsals and stuff, never mind getting them all on the same page musically. I'm glad I can create all the music I need on my own laptop and send it all across the world potentially, I think if I was born even 10 years earlier I would have given up on music because of all the idiots you have to deal with if you want to make music in a group. So my question is - Does all this technology mean that actual bands of 2 or 3 or 11 people will become obsolete? - SoloBand

Dear SB:
I agree that we are lucky to live in an age where the technology allows anyone, whether a singular visionary or a raging ego-maniac, to create music without the hindrance, input or help of other musicians. This has allowed many people who couldn't integrate their sonic vision with the visions of other people to create the sounds in their head. Hooray for technology!

...it also means that people who LIKE performing with others, who like seeing their vision evolve and go in directions they otherwise wouldn't have dreamed of, who know that a good band is somehow, magically, MORE than the sum of its parts... won't have to cope with as many insufferable blowhards and self-proclaimed geniuses.

Maybe you've just had some bad luck, or maybe you live in a smallish town where there are only a few bands/musicians your age, or maybe you're an insufferable prick who thinks he's the only one in town who knows how to play an A chord... but I have to tell you that all musicians are not "idiots" ..sure they can be a pain-in-the-ass to deal with...but I'm telling you that in ANY collection of 2 to 11 individuals there is going to be friction. Sometimes that friction is worthwhile. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it IS the friction that makes discovery possible... and I think that is what you risk losing when you decide that you're ONLY going to create music on your own. Don't get me wrong - a lot of great music is made by loners in their basement... and if you have a lot to say that is a great way to get things out of yourself.. but eventually you're hopefully going to be hungry for new ideas about your instrument, or your message or your overall sound and the best way to discover new things is to find them while playing with other people, listening to other people... opening up your mind to someone else's ideas and opening up your heart to what other people are expressing through their music can only enrich your own.

Enjoy your drum machine, sequencers, synths and MIDI interfaces... Create a vast body of work based on all those thoughts and sounds you have swirling in your head... Work it all out and piece it together exactly how you hear it in your head with no compromises and no outside influences... Maybe it'll be genius. Maybe.

Oct 20, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion made easy, and less shameful.

dear aap:
I want to take advantage of all the online things I can to promote my bands. I have two problems though. Which ones to pick and choose from and also I don't like having to give so much personal information to all of these sites. I'm not overly paranoid, but I just wonder why they need so much information. So how do they say it? What is the best way to leverage my bands online presence, and how do I accomplish that without letting the world know all my personal stuff. - savvy but.

Dear SB:
A couple of years ago I walked into a Costco, looking to sign up for a 'membership' and start raking in all those free weekend food samples and great deals on bulk toilet paper, but as I was filling out the form, I noticed one of the first things they asked for was my social security number. What? I asked the woman behind the counter why I had to give this information and what they needed it for. Of course she just shrugged. It isn't like she had anything to do with Costco's corporate decision-making - so I left it blank... Pretty much the only time you're required to give anyone your SS# is if they're planning on hiring you to work for them, or if they're some sort of government agency... that said, there are plenty of places who SAY they "require" it... One of my previous dentists for example... He said it was the 'only' way to keep track of his patients and that my records were 'confidential' ..but I also noticed that those confidential records were kept on a shelf in an unsecured alcove with no door... accessible to anyone who might want a quick stack of names/birthdates/social security numbers... all you need to create false identities for credit cards etc...

So what am I saying? I'm saying that just because some business, online or otherwise, SAYS that they 'require' certain information... That doesn't mean you have to give it to them. Every website or "online community" starts their ball rolling by telling you all the wonderful services they provide for you, for "free"... but in order to use the services you run a gauntlet of personal questions. Name, address, zip code, date of birth etc... In some cases, sure, the date-of-birth is required to prove you're an adult... but do they need your exact birthday? No... get the month and year right then pick a different date. Same goes for your zip code... with your name and zip code they can sell that info to junk mailers etc... so pick a zip code somewhere in your general vicinity, this is especially easy if you live in a big city... as far as 'names' go... why use your whole name? Maybe just some initials instead or use the name of your band instead.

I'm not talking about committing fraud here... and granted some of this manipulation might qualify as a terms of service violation (IF they ever bother to check)...but it isn't like you're committing perjury or anything. YOU decide what information you want to give out...not them. So always keep that in mind.

Now as to what online tools to use... THAT is a big question... and one I think I've answered before, but I'm too lazy to search the AAP Archives tonight... so here goes.

Obviously your band needs a website of its own. It should have links to your upcoming gig schedule, photos and audio clips from previous gigs and a way to contact you. You don't need to pay some stranger a big pile of money to create a website either... look into various free (or nearly free) CMS ("content management systems") solutions... like blogger or wordpress or posterious or any of a dozen other companies... You can slap up a basic website in a few hours... then, as you learn more about it, you can build a more engaging website, with more of the bells/whistles.

In addition to a band website, yes, create a Facebook page, or group, for the band... They haven't quite figured out what they are doing on this stuff yet, but obviously FB reaches the most people. Maybe get a MySpace band page, maybe not... the online world seems to have left Myspace on the side of the road.

Twitter? I don't know. Is your band already popular enough that it would be easy to get 'followers'? ...and do you have anything worthwhile to tweet about? - upcoming gigs new recordings for sale etc? ...if not, you probably don't have to worry about this much, although you might want to sign up w/your band's name...just to make sure it is yours when the time comes.

It is sweet that you think I would know what I'm talking about with any of this. Obviously I'm not a genius at self-promotion here on the web, if I was my 'visitor stats' for this website would have a lot more digits... but I do want to tell you one key point about self promotion, and it is this:

Once you've got your website and facebook group and all that, you can't use these sites just as billboards for the latest thing you're trying to 'sell.' ... You've got to reach out to your community (whatever it is) and be interested in what they're putting out too. Think about it. How much do you hate getting 'come to my gig' emails from people who ONLY send you 'come to my gig' emails? ...don't be one of those people. Sign up for any LOCALLY run website that covers your town's music scene... be an active member: post comments on the things you like (ignore the things you hate, unless you're trying to score points by being a D-bag.) ...and hey! If there isn't a central kind of website that pays attention to your local scene: the bands, the clubs, the shows the people etc ...then MAKE ONE YOURSELF... build a website or a 'Ning' network or something... Create something that people will enjoy and FIND USEFUL to THEM. Build that kind of crowd, do something for them and THEN those people will want to come to your gigs, forward your links and download your songs. Remember: Networking, on-line or in real-time, has to work both ways. It is that simple and going 'digital' or 'online' hasn't changed that. The rule has always been: If you want people to come to your gigs, you have to go to theirs. It is the same thing online.

Oct 13, 2010

Addicted to our Habits.

Dear Ask A Punk-
I'm in an ongoing debate with some friends and family members over the difference between a 'habit' and an 'addiction.' I think the word addiction gets thrown around way to much. The truth is my whole family was a big ball of dysfunction when I was growing up and now they're no better, but now they talk about it, always defensively like someone will accuse the other of being an addict to something but their own problem is just a habit. Can you really use these words interchangeably like that? I think it was better when everyone was just f-ed up but didn't talk about it, not that they're really talking about it in any constructive way, but it is like now that they watch Dr. Phil or something they have this new vocabulary that they can mis-use on each other. I go to my boyfriend's house and it is like visiting another planet. I didn't know families could not just co-exist but actually like each other and talk about something other than the fact that so-and-so is way more screwed up than they are because of A, B and C. So what is the deal? Habit Addict.

Dear HA-
First of all, I hope you've moved out of that house by now, assuming you're old enough. I also hope that you don't bring this mode of argument into your relationship with your boyfriend, but I'm guessing by the tone of your letter that you're smart enough not to do that.

Habit vs. Addiction... hmmm.

Well, as you know there are physical addictions to things like drugs. Heroin, cocaine, alcohol etc... and those things are very clearly defined: The person addicted to these things gets physically sick when the drug of choice is taken away... of course at that point it really isn't a drug of 'choice' anymore but a drug of necessity. Addiction itself of course goes deeper than that psychologically. Every pothead will tell you that that weed isn't physically addictive... but it is undeniable that a certain percentage of marijuana users experience a profound psychological addiction to it... and 'psychological addiction' is a whole can of worms in itself.

Very often, whether they realize it or not, people are trying to self-medicate themselves out of one state and into another. That initial state is usually some sort of state of fear, anxiety, depression or, in rare cases mania etc... People figure out what works to get them out of that state and then tend to continue to rely on that mechanism even after it stops working or starts accumulating negative consequences ... like driving into trees or losing your house/family or getting fired from jobs etc. Then addiction becomes like a closed loop... It isn't 'working' anymore (if it ever really did) but the person can't stop themselves from hoping it'll work this time.

I too think the word 'addiction' is used to often and too liberally, but clearly, addictions do go beyond substance abuse. People can get truly addicted to many things: video games, porn, gambling, washing their hands, NOT washing their hands... I'm sure there are people who would argue against this model, but maybe they're just splitting hairs. People get addicted to things because they're seeking escape from some kind of pain, either physical or psychological pain. The biiiiiiig question of course is usually: What are the root causes of these pains?

...and then that gets into the realms of psychology, genetics, brain chemistry, family dynamics and personality. I'm sure my readers don't want to plow through a couple thousand words of me peeling back the layers on all those onions... but trust me, those realms are where many of these issues start.

Besides, what you don't need is ammunition to bring into your next family squabble. What you do need is to figure out how to be the least screwed up member of your family... and to do that you need some distance, some time, maybe some therapy and definitely some personal introspection. Take some time for yourself and figure out what, if anything, you might be addicted to... you might even be addicted to your family dysfunctions... sounds crazy I know, but it is possible.

Take care of yourself first. Give yourself a chance to evolve and improve on your own. It is always better for everyone involved to work on yourself instead of telling other people (family members, boyfriends, strangers on the subway) what THEY should be working on.

Oct 6, 2010

Mongrel and Child Reunion.

Dear AAP = I've started dating a woman, and things are going fairly well. We're in our late 30's and have a lot in common: our disturbing to some record collections, a few battle scars and a taste for leather jackets. She also has a kid, a boy age 4, who I'm getting to know and that seems cool. The problem is the kid has always been terrified of dogs and I currently have two of them. I have always had dogs and I have had these two a long time. I'm not going to get rid of them or go without having dogs in my life, but the relationship with the woman isn't going to progress unless we can fix this. Of course she thinks it is a no-brainer - get rid of the dogs, but I'm just not going to do that. I'm afraid she will see that as me using the dogs as an excuse to 'not get more serious' or even break up. I'll admit it does probably sound weird that my dogs might be more important than a human relationship, I just don't think of it in those terms though. Who is right here? Any insight? - Woof

Dear W =
I'll keep this simple: Keep your dogs.

Kids grow up eventually and if this mom thinks she'll be able to shield her son from dogs for the rest of his life, she's a bit deluded. Doesn't it make more sense for you, her and him to sort of, I don't know, tackle this fear early and nip it in the bud? ...I'm of course talking about approaching this in a thoughtful and sensitive manner, not locking the kid in a room with four pit bulls... maybe even seeking professional help to help the kid get over his fear. I'm no expert on kids, but I don't think they simply 'outgrow' these sorts of issues completely on their own. In fact, I think this sort of fear might be likely be beget other fears. Once the kid realizes (consciously or not) that if he says he's afraid of something him mom will bend and twist the world to make him more at ease... well, that could set in motion one big ball of unintended consequences.

But you've got to approach the mom with sensitivity too. You can't puff out your chest and say "screw your kid, I'm keeping my dogs." ...but you have to let her know that your dogs are, in their doggish way, members of your family... Getting rid of them will lessen your quality of life and definitely cause the dogs a lot of trauma (some studies suggest that dogs, once bonded with their original owners, never fully get over being separated from them.) So when you talk to her about this, preferably without the dogs at your feet and her son in her lap... Let her know you're willing to explore any options that would keep you together as a couple AND let you keep your dogs. If she is completely unwilling to hear that and move forward then you might want to re-evaluate your relationship. IS she using the dog issue as an excuse to break up with you? ...and conversely, are you sticking to your guns because you love your dogs? ...or because this might just be an honorable way out of the relationship?

You have to be honest with her, and honest with yourself. Dogs and kids have a few things in common, they can sense fear, and bullshit. Don't be a disappointment to any of them.