A Greater Responsibility

23 03 2011

For the last few years, music writers (myself included) have spun yarns about the availability and affordability of music recording equipment. Anyone with a computer and a bedroom can crank out something that someone will listen to. Look at the Black Keys’ first albums.

While making a record is easier in theory for bands more than ever, making a great record it just as difficult as it has always been, if not even more difficult. The tools and technology add to the temptation for laziness. And new skills must be developed to manipulate the digital medium, to avoid the tell-tale signs of DAWs and plug-ins.

Add to this a proliferation of appreciation for the “raw” aesthetic, which is supposed to reward honest expression and composition rather than production sheen. Some of my favorite albums of the last decade fall into this category. But for every good record (let alone GREAT record), there are a whole crop of lazy musicians out there who take advantage of this, and instead of perfecting anything whatsoever about their music, they just let it come out sloppy. Maybe this is cool, but it’s not lasting.

I don’t like to look at things as being better or worse than they used to be. The situation is different; I’m different, you’re different. Music evolves, as it should, as any art form is supposed to do by nature. New technology has always given the previously disenfranchised an opportunity to outshine the former leaders by jumping headfirst into the learning process, embracing the change rather than ignoring it. A new generation of master will rise out of the change, and in turn change the growth of the art forever.

But the cream will always rise to the top. Those who continue to be the best performers and write the best songs will stand out because their skills transcend any of the technologies that may come, go, or stay. And engineers who equally embrace the old, current, and burgeoning technologies will always find work because of their mastery and flexibility.

As paradoxical as it may seem, it is nonetheless true: the more technology attempts to make things easier, the harder you must work to maintain, no, exec the standards previously set. And there will a whole lot more people trying to get there first.


Twitter Trumps Telephone

23 03 2011

This is not about me. But someone I live with. She owns a small business in Venice, CA. Her name is Julia. This post more about conveying information than creating art, but I find the information to be important and the revelation to be relatively stunning.

Julia recently had a very serious problem with her phone service. Verizon, the leader in terrible customer service, shut her phone service off unexpectedly. Give or take an hour or two here and there, her business was without phone service for almost two weeks. For a business that relies on its phone for customers to call and make appointments for which they pay money, this was an affliction not unlike the Black Plague. It literally could have killed her.

So she took to the web, increased her Twitter specials, and encouraged clients to make appointments via email or through Twitter itself. But that is not the point. Verizon has always had a reputation for terrible service, and they no doubt showed their true colors through this ordeal. Julia estimates that she spent somewhere between 10 and 12 hours on hold for representatives, each one who when finally they appeared on the other end told her a different story about why the service had been cut off and when it would be turned back on. Ultimately, someone over there got the story straight and they unanimously told her it would be 10 days before the phone would be back on. 10 days had already passed.

Enter Twitter. I remembered reading a blog by a guy who was skiing at Vail and had a problem with the experience, so he tweeted the CEO and almost immediately received an answer. So I suggested she find someone at Verizon on Twitter and send them a message. Who she found was @VerizonSupport. Whether they are trying to validate their existence against the traditional phone service I am not sure. But after a few messages back and forth to diagnose Julia’s issue, they provided a direct line to a supervisor they promised would solve the issue. This may not seem like a big deal, but this came after anonymous drone representatives who refuse to tell you their last names and who insist that they cannot refer your situation to a supervisor, only to a “technical specialist” or whatever.

Of course, we were doubtful at first, because of the terrible service so far. But after some tense words regarding the urgency of the situation, this supervisor was able to get the phone working again within an hour.

In this case, Twitter gave Julia an alternative to the apathy usually encountered on the phone. I dig it. Barriers are falling. We do have access. And as the old ways resist, it will only push us further into the new generation.


7 02 2011

It’s weird to think about, really, how are lives are broken down into minutes and seconds. Planning has been taken to a microscopic level, schedules must be abided, targets must be reached. It’s all good to an extent, because the way or world is set up we must accomplish things to get ahead, put food on the table for ourselves or our families, plan for our retirement. There must be a debt for our mastery/defiance of time and space. The benefits of a global community come at a price.

Waiting to board the plane this morning, I had a conversation with a man regarding the virtues and dilemmas of window, middle and aisle seats. Because I travel often for work, and bring expensive equipment on board with me, I will sometimes prefer a middle seat to an aisle or window if it mean I will be in a better boarding group, thus ensuring bin space for my stuff. With exuberant eyes, he told me how he just loved window seats, how to him they represented mankind’s greatest achievement. By this he meant our ability to go anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours, when long-distance travel use to be considered in days, weeks, or months. Of course, for those who cannot afford or access air travel, this still remains the case.

It made me wonder how being up so high, 34,000 feet to be specific, and looking out of the window for miles and miles, so far that you can see the earth curve away, affects our perspective of life when we are on the ground. How do we relate to distance? To mountains or clouds? To walking? To planes flying overhead? How has our psychology changed since we began to view the earth from such great heights?

One of my favorite professors in college, N. Scott Momaday, was a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a Native American of the Kiowa tribe. With his deep, booming voice, he used to tell us the creation myth of his people, of how his ancestors crawled from the underworld to this world through a log, how they originally dwelled in the mountains, their view of the world inhibited by tree and shade. Some brave leaders ultimately led the tribe out of the mountains to the Great Plains, and there they were introduced to the single most powerful and catalyzing element their society would ever encounter: the horse.

On the back of a horse, a Kiowa could see for miles. They could see herds of buffalo or enemy raids while still miles away. It gave them time to react, but more importantly, it changed their psychology, their world view (on account of actually being able to see the world). It gave them the opportunity to plan, and they became wise to the advantages therein, from making the most of precious few minutes to avoid or prepare for an attack or laying the groundwork for generations to come. Their culture became enriched not only by the deeds of past ancestors but by the promise of the future as well.

There can be no doubt of the benefits of technological advances for both the Kiowa and our culture today, and they parallel each other with the enhancement of long range vision in the literal sense, but in a metaphorical way as well. And while this ability was and is used for the good of the tribe/society, it’s not without its bitter end. The horse brought the Kiowa into its own as a brave tribe, the became masters of the Great Plains and of war, which brought great glory and a heritage as well as the tragedies that go along with it. While, the thousands of flights every day around the world make possible incredible achievements in every profession and help enrich our global community, yet they also pour tons of carbon into the atmosphere, warming the planet, making our future a little less certain, even as we plan for it.