Shuffering and Shnacking

Taylor Made for Profits

There has been a ton of chatter over the last several days since Taylor Swift et al decided to pull her catalog from Spotify. Some are pointing a finger at Spotify for paying out at too low a rate, others saying that Swift & Co. are simply trying to force fans to purchase more profitable downloads or CDs.

But what if Taylor Swift pulling her catalog (and withholding her latest record) was somehow beneficial to those who prefer to keep their music on Spotify? In theory, it should be. Since monthly artist payouts are calculated based on each artist’s total number of streams divided by the total number of streams on Spotify as a whole (equaling each artist’s “market share”), reduced total streaming volume due to the lack of a new Swift album (and her catalog) should have artists seeing more favorable payouts than they would if her music remained. See, it’s not all bad!

30th Anniversary Land Cruiser 70

lc70_regTo celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Land Cruiser 70, Toyota is bringing back a slightly updated version of one of my favorite cars. Sadly, it’s only for one year and sadder yet it will only be available in Japan. Maybe Subaru will bring back the ’77 BRAT, with it’s insane rear facing jump seats, in the US to make up for it.

600 Words on ‘Beyoncé’


1) A front line artist selling 600,000+ US albums in 72 hrs, with no album set up whatsoever, is really healthy in 2013. I don’t care if you’re Beyoncé and the bar is set really high, she reached a good number of fans. That many people opening up iTunes over the weekend to buy an album is great. How many people went anywhere to buy the new Katy Perry or Eminem record in the first 72 hrs?

2) You can’t undervalue instant gratification and I think Beyoncé was able to capitalize well on that. Ironically, it’s what makes streaming music such a good value proposition for consumers.

3) The “everywhere for everyone” approach is a good one if you’re talking about driving discovery but maybe this ‘Beyoncé’ experiment will show us something about windowing for streaming services. It’s all very having your cake and eating it but perhaps you can sell a lot of records initially and ultimately reach a larger audience over time through ubiquity.

4) I’m curious what type of purchase influence the videos have. Adding  high production value video experiences for every song seems like a good device to get people to buy an album as a package, or at least mentally justify it. “This thing only comes this way, the way the artist intended, so if I want that experience, this is how I get it.” Video has to be highly compelling though. Belly banding footage you had in the can on the end of an album doesn’t help sell records.

5) There was a ton of demand for a new Beyoncé record. I think if you threw a secret album out every 12 months it would not be as successful the second time. Or maybe it would be more successful? You’d create ever larger demand by adding fuel to the fire, assuming the music was always great. 60s acts frequently put out multiple albums in a year. Timberlake put out two records this year and the demand wasn’t as strong for the second one, but it wasn’t a secret record.

6) Saying “Beyoncé sure, but that doesn’t work for a new artist” is almost a bit too obvious to be worth mentioning. Set up leading into a release has so much to do with scheduling – press, touring and promo etc. and non-Beyoncé level acts have to work around other people’s schedules. Dropping a surprise record would probably be too detrimental or at the least confusing. It’s helpful to have a date people can talk about and publicize.

7) I see no reason other big acts could not run the ‘Beyoncé’ plan and have sales success. You’d have to deal with the biting Beyoncé blowback, but I don’t see why an unannounced Drake or Coldplay record wouldn’t be just as exciting for their fans and reach a decent chunk of casual listeners. Though I wish I knew how many casual Beyoncé enthusiasts bought the record in the first 3 days. Are you even considered casual at that point?

8) It will be interesting to see how much traditional promo she does around this record and what effect it has. My assumption is she’ll do all the same things that she would had her album not been a surprise. She has two shows in New York next week and she’s touring Europe early next year. I would expect another US lap next year at some point.

9) Beyoncé doesn’t use Twitter and her website is borderline terrible so maybe those things are less essential to success than some people think. Or maybe she sells 2x if she is a master of all things digital, I don’t know if there’s a clear answer to this. It couldn’t possibly hurt her to have a solid website and an email list (try signing up, it’s really hard to find on her site). She has 52m likes on Facebook. If she could get 5% of those on her email list, she’d be doing even better.

Six Months Later

Arthur at six months

Our son is six months old this week. The road here has felt much like one paved with cobblestones. Besides the madness/bliss/exhaustion that is caring for a baby, my father died in October, we started the process of buying a more child friendly house in November, which is about to wrap up this week (more on that in a future post) and we cleaned/painted/listed our soon-to-be old house for sale. I also turned 30 last week. I think I’m finished with major life changes for a bit or forever if that’s even possible.

Baby related operations are wonderful. The most trouble I seem to face is not getting to spend enough time with Arthur, which from what I can discern, if that is the toughest part of playing father to a six month old, I’ve got it pretty good/easy. I don’t have much of an issue with him spending eight hours a day with an adult other than his parents, I think going to work and time away from one’s parents are beneficial for all parties, but I would love to sneak a few more hours into the day for baby time.

The death of my father took me to new depths of exhaustion/depression that I am only now clawing my way back from. The loss of a parent is unsettling to a degree I didn’t think possible. The day after he died, I experienced an intense cosmic jet lag, as if having traveled on a one way ticket to an uncomfortably exotic destination where my father no longer existed. Birth/death are literal life opposites of course, but they are emotionally inverse in a sort of comically absurd way.

I haven’t had the time or focus to put together a post about what I’ve found to be great baby equipment. A fair amount of research went in to all our purchases and after six months of field testing I’ve got a bit of perhaps valuable wisdom to share. Hoping I get to this in the next week or so.

On Becoming a Father

It’s been 9 days since our son was born. Things are finally starting to settle down slightly, a bit of a rhythm is taking shape. He’s currently sleeping in the swing next to me so I thought I’d use the opportunity to write something about the birth experience.

Becoming a father is truly incredible. There’s nothing you will ever read or hear that comes even close to conveying the feeling. I described it to one friend as similar to having sex for the first time or eating great sushi; before it happens you think you understand what the experience will be, but in actuality it’s so singular that you can’t fully grasp it without having 1st hand knowledge.

But for all that’s wonderful there is an immense amount about labor (and the first few days) that is overwhelming and can really break you down. Despite all the beautiful depictions of natural chid birth I’d read and found calming, labor was totally terrifying for me to watch. It wasn’t a part of the experience I thought would be particularly difficult for me, I’d had visions of it being this very slow gradual build up culminating with the intense arrival moment of our son but that wasn’t what we got. Which is something you hear for 9 months frequently; you’ll make a ton of plans and then it will all sort of go to shit because you can’t completely anticipate what will transpire.

My wife’s labor ended up being a very short one, which is good in the logical sense that she spent less hours in pain, but it also means she spent very little time ramping up in terms of the level of pain. She basically went from 0-100 in 30 minutes which was very very intense and difficult to watch, not to mention totally overwhelming for the both of us (note: I don’t intend to make it sound like my discomfort was on the same level as my wife’s. I have little doubts about her having it worse than I). Typical labor might last anywhere from 12 to 36 hours. Ours took about 4 hours start to finish.

We had also planned on having a ‘natural’ birth with no pain drugs. But again, you make plans and then they change, which in this case I feel we made the absolute right decision to get a last minute epidural, which was something we had been dead set against for months. It’s so easy to swear off modern medicine or convenience when you’re not faced with needing it but it can be a massive help to reserve some flexibility for crucial moments. Had either of us been more rigid about not wanting drugs, we easily could have found ourselves in a even more difficult situation.

Labor started at around 8pm and by 1:30am Arthur was lying on his Mom’s chest having his first external meal. One of the most surreal experiences of birth is the near split second transition from terror and pain to elation and calm. It’s as if in an instant the entire room spins around like the stage at the Hollywood Bowl and all is well. Shortly after we were moved to another hospital room to spend 36 hours recovering and learning some basic baby care skills before heading home to start our journey.

There isn’t much of an end point to this story (it’s weird trying to wrap it up actually since it’s a story about a beginning) so I’m going to stop it here otherwise it could turn into 20,000 words of baby babble. The last week has been one of the highest points of my life (all the cliches about the personal transformation you experience are mostly true) and despite being what seems like an insurmountable challenge at times, I would do it over again without hesitation. The addition of our son has made me feel whole in a way that nothing else ever has and I doubt anything ever will.

Summer Reading

I thought if I put together a list of the books I want to read (in addition to creating a physical pile, a printed and bound roadblock of sorts, in the middle of the small path that leads to my side of the bed) it might help motivate me to work through them at a quicker pace. We’ll see how many of these I get through in the next 3 months though.

Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin BrothersBenjamin Whitmer
Mythologies: The Complete Edition, in a New TranslationRoland Barthes
The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ RollPreston Lauterbach
Save the Last Dance for SatanNick Tosches
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer – Philip K Dick
The GolemGustav Meyrink
Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own PastSimon Reynolds
The Rings of SaturnW.G. Sebald
Veeck-As In Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill VeeckBill Veeck
The Situationists and the City: A ReaderTom McDonough

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The Importance of the Album

I spent the better part of my evening last night working through an August 1967 issue of Crawdaddy I’d picked up at Amoeba before meeting my wife for dinner. The cover feature was an 8 page interview with Paul Rothchild, who talks at length about recording the then just released first Doors LP*.

Rothchild rambles through a bunch of Doors anecdotes, some interesting details about microphones and his recording process. Then he touches on a great note about how important recording the 1st album can be for a group:

“It’s a relief for them to have this first album out because it gives them an opportunity to move on towards music and musical concepts they’ve been discussing and wanting to get into. This is a very interesting thing that a lot of groups have, the effect that making albums has on them, and how it’s almost an insistence that they change their repertoire. It’s like a group goes into a recording studio and that giant performance mirror, the tape recorder, is put in front of them, they finally work out all of the problems and all of the fine points in the music that they’ve been wanting to for so long, and then when they get through with the tunes a great many of them fall by the wayside. Their statement’s been made.”

“…another thing has happened, now that it’s on record and the musicians can listen to it on record it is the statement that they wanted to make on that song and now Jim tends to perform it that way. Sometimes he’ll leave something out, sometimes he’ll put something else in but it’s a formed piece, it isn’t that open canvas any more.”

– Paul Rothchild, Crawdaddy, August 1967

Reading this got me thinking about something I hear semi-frequently, that despite all the great albums anyone can rattle off, the album was always largely considered to be a business instrument, a way to sell listeners something more expensive than a single and now that we’re back to singles, we can get rid of the album, ’cause most albums are 3 good songs and a bunch of filler anyway.

And for those acts that live and die by their radio singles, or make 3-song-plus-filler records, sure I suppose that makes sense. Why spend all that time and mony trying to make one batch of singles when you can tour and the go into the studio as needed?

But for more ‘serious artists’ (in quotes cause who knows what that means anyway, you can use your own judgement there) recording an album actually does serve several remarkable functions, the process acting as a sort of mental drain snake while at the same time creating a canonical reference for the future of what the songs are ‘supposed’ to sound like. Maybe it’s all a bit obvious, but I thought Paul nailed it.

* Speaking of The Doors, I recently discovered that the mono version is available on Spotify, which if you’ve never heard I enthusiastically recommend giving it a listen. The first album always sounded really wussy to me in stereo, I could never figure out why all the older LA guys worshiped them, but in mono the drums and guitars are a lot more upfront and punchy. It’s still a pretty soft record when compared to some of the other rock records that came out in ’67 but in mono it’s considerably less flaccid.

Michael Jackson’s shower bench sold for $4,480 at auction

Julien’s Auctions held a sale in December that included much of the contents of the giant Holmby Hills estate Michael Jackson had been renting at the time of his death. Included in the auction was a shower bench that had been customized by Michael with several stick figure drawings. The winning bid for the bench was $4,480.

via Julien’s Auctions

Deadstock Mid-Century ‘Slot Loading’ Car Turntable




Never mounted or installed and allegedly in the original box, which I wish they had included photos of in the listing. Not sure what year this dates to, the seller described it as being from the ’50s/60s’. I’ve seen versions of the in-car record player where it was installed in the glove box area, but this record player would pull out on a tray type thing and function much like any other turntable. I’ve never seen a ‘slot-loading’ car turntable, but then again I haven’t been looking for one either.

via eBay