Sunday, October 23, 2016

White kids, Hip hop and the 1980s

So I just read that Eric B. and Rakim are back together and going on tour.

This news made me think back to when I was a teenager, driving my Dodge Colt around Dallas, TX,  delivering pizzas and listening to the album Paid In Full.

I had been a New Wave kind of kid throughout the early to mid-80's, so Depeche Mode or New Order or The Smiths were my more typical jams. A girlfriend started buying rap LPs, and before you know it, I was buying a big amp and subwoofer for the car.

The first acts I listened to were Public Enemy, EPMD, Eric B. and Rakim, Ice T, and Big Daddy Kane.  I literally got to know them by picking up the albums at the record store and listening to them.  At the time, I didn't hear a lot of hip hop on mainstream radio.  Not even on the R&B station.

I got into the music initially because I dig groove based music.  Stuff that makes me want to bop my head.  But soon enough the lyrics started to penetrate and I that's when I started getting a new perspective.

It's hard to imagine now but in 1987, culturally, in the midwest at least, we were very much segregated by race.  I mentioned my job as a pizza delivery driver.  The white dudes talked to each other, the black dudes talked to each other, but there was minimal interaction.  I didn't think much about it; it was just the way things were.

But as I listened to hip hop, I started to hear things that made me curious. I started thinking about what it must be like to live in a poor neighborhood, or to have to contend with violence, or to just live in a country with a history that's not quite so impressive if you look at from a non-white perspective.

Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find
Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check

--- Public Enemy

I was also listening to a public radio station that played a lot of underground hip hop, KNON.  I don't remember the names of the artists but I remember thinking, man, rap music is like CNN for the black perspective. While there were a share of songs about "straight up dissin' and dismissin'," commentary on community was another major theme.

In a lot of ways, rap and hip hop music really broadened my entire world view.

And now today's interesting observation.  The white kids that I knew who were like me, now in our forties, who spent time listening to early hip hop, are much less likely to feel threatened by Black Empowerment movements like BLM.  I mean, why would you feel threatened?  You've got to stand up against injustice when you see it.

And the white kids I knew who didn't get on the hip hop train?  Who would never listen to the tunes because it was "black music"?  I'm still hearing the same old tune from them.  I swear to God they think that BLM is some kind of radical militia.  When I see the way BLM is covered in right-wing media, I shrug and think, I guess some white people are never going to get over their prejudices.

I little empathy is all that is needed to really put yourself in someone else's shoes.  Just imagine for a moment what life is like for someone who didn't grow up in your suburb, or in your city, or your country.

I'm glad hip hop came along when it did, because for me at least, it gave me a peek into a world that I didn't really understand.   Oh, and on top of's still so much fun to bop my head to those tunes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Thank God I found the following.  I use XFCE and I have been annoyed by the minimal, overlay scrollbars for months.

Get back to good old fashioned, easy to grab, no mouse over waiting, 1999 style scrollbars with the following command.

gsettings set com.canonical.desktop.interface scrollbar-mode normal

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Advice for sons wanting to become professional drummers

Dear son,

So you are thinking you might want to grow up to be a professional drummer.

Go for it.  You should always pursue your dreams, as the vigorous pursuit of dreams brings much happiness in life.

But if you want to make a living, that is, pay for things, live in your own house or apartment, eat and have stuff, you'll need to be strategic about how you build your career.

Your average professional studio musician makes $64,979 a year, at least according to this site.  That's a reasonable middle-class salary.  To make this amount, you'll need to be a truly excellent drummer, able to play flawlessly in any style of music.  And you'll need to be a hard worker, and reliable.  You'll probably also need to live in a major city where studio musicians are in demand.

I do worry that advances in technology will make it easier and easier for studios to simply program realistic sounding drum tracks, meaning that technology may eventually put you out of a job.

You could join a band and tour constantly, building a name for yourself.  At worst, you'll get paid in free beer.  At best, you could work up to playing big festivals and making decent money---from time to time.  Ask our barbers, both of whom have toured in major festivals.  There were moments when they were paid well.  But the money was not consistent enough to keep them touring full time for their entire lives.

When you play a club, a bar, a venue of any type, or produce recorded music for any entity, you will typically be paid a fraction of the money your music earns.

Working for fractions of pennies on the dollar isn't new.  Rush, The Foo Fighters, Pink Floyd...all of the mega-music bands in the last 50 years, made a lot more money for someone else than they ever did for themselves.

If you care about earning money, try to emulate those who profited from the music of the last 50 years.  Spend your time studying capitalism and business in general, in addition to practicing your musical chops.

I suggest you form a band and think of it as a business entity.  In fact, you should make it a business entity if you are going to invest a considerable amount of time in it.

Make sure the roles are clearly understood.  If it's your band and your brand, make sure you protect your interests.

Band members will flake. Make sure your brand (band name and identity) remains yours when they do.  Start out with clearly defined roles and ownership positions.

Make music that appeals to others.  You can play music all day you love but no one else does, but you won't make money.  Respect your audience if you expect to be paid for your efforts.  Give them something that excites and interests them.

Get out and play.  Play anywhere that will let you play while you build your brand.

Control the venue as soon as you can.  When I was younger and played in bands, I occasionally played to crowds of around two-thousand people.  Each person there paid $10 to get in, generating $20,000, and that doesn't include profits made at the bar or merchandizing.  My cut was $100.  This is not uncommon.  Bands are suckers, driven by ego, and they often fail to understand the value that they are producing for others.

Control the venue.  Find a venue, and rent or buy it.   Do your own PR, rent or own the PA and lights, make sure you have staff to control the crowd, have appropriate insurance.  Be aware that hosting a show is an investment and a lot of work.

Do this, and at the end of the night, you'll go home with a lot more than $100.

Merchandise.  This is capitalism 101.  Make stuff at a low cost and mark it up and sell it.  This is how you make a living in America.

Don't ever buy into the dream that some big record label will come along and "discover" you and make you star.  That was always fiction, and now more than ever.

It's up to you.  Roll up your sleeves, work hard, adapt when change is necessary, play well, put on a good show, and you can make a living at this.

But if you want to really live well, you'll need to be more than just a drummer, you'll need to be in the business of entertainment.  Notice the keyword is business.  Considering the business aspects of music doesn't make you a sell out, in fact, quite the opposite.  This is your thing, that you get to do your way.  And if you are smart about it, you can have it all.  You can make the music you love, find an audience, and make a living off it at the same time.

Making a living doing something you love---it's the ONLY way to live.

Good luck!