Shadow's starting the New Year off with a bang, check out his latest journal entry here!

Posted Jan 4, 2010


Well, here we are again, another year, another decade. Optimism about the future is tempered with a nagging sense that underlying factors causing most of the misery in the world still exist. Lucky, then, that I’m a musician and not a politician.

Specifically, when it comes to the wallet, everyone’s suffering…of that there can be no doubt. And what of the financial prospects for musicians and recording artists in the years to come? Shaky, at best. Unless you’re one of the grotesque ‘Idol’-type pop disasters in the top 5, you’re looking at getting a day job or finding other sources of income. Conventional wisdom amongst my peers has been remarkably short-sided over the last decade: “Yeah, CD sales are down, but all the money is in licensing.” Not anymore. “Yeah, licensing money is down, but the video game industry is killing it.” Less so these days, according to recent data. “Well, the real money is in touring.” Really? When was the last time you saw a ‘new,’ post-record company artist headline a major music festival? At this rate, we’ll be stuck with Coldplay for decades (no offense intended).

Time for a little straight talk, from one reasonably intelligent human being to YOU, the reasonably intelligent reader. As distasteful as it may sound, the fact is that so many of our heroes: Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, The Beatles, whoever you care to name; generated much of their best art in return for financial compensation. If you take away the compensation, guess what…the art stops. For example, how many young rap artists are grinding away these days in New York, trying to get a deal? Not too many, certainly compared to the ‘80s and ‘90s. There’s no allure, no pot at the end of the rainbow. People have been asking for years now, “Where’s the next Nas, the next Jay-Z?” Be prepared to keep waiting…and for music, overall, to keep sucking. Why? Because only bottom-of-the-barrel, embarrassing pop tripe generates enough income to feed the machine. Anything unproven or risky? Nobody’s going to bankroll that kind of ‘experiment.’

Let me be clear: I love music. I love the culture of music, making music, playing music, geeking out over music from the past and present. I love old record company stories, and the characters that inhabited it. In other words, I have learned to appreciate the merchants of commerce as well as the art. If you love movies or cars, chances are you can relate to what I’m describing. What would Hollywood be without the larger-than-life, audacious personalities behind the scenes? What would cars be like if there had never been Detroit?

Gone are the recording studios (including the historically important Plant down the road from me in Sausalito), the record shops, and the music magazines. Replaced by the oh-so-cynical, oh-so-corrosive AM talk radio of the new millennium, the Internet. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Chances are, you may have even been one of those majority who danced on the grave of the falling record companies, pointed to Radiohead giving their album away for free and said, “See, look, if they can do it, why can’t everyone else?” Slowly, I turn…

Every artist is entitled to their own price point, just as every consumer has a choice in what they purchase. Nobody puts a gun to someone’s head and says, “Hey, buy this Picasso for 20 million.” Likewise, if $9.99 is too much to spend for one of my albums, so be it, your choice. But if you’re holding your breath, waiting for me to boost my cool-quotient by giving my music away for free, it’s not going to happen. The fact is that I feel my music has value. You may disagree, and that’s fine. But I know how much energy I put into what I do, and how long it takes me to make something I’m satisfied with. Giving that away just feels wrong to me. It’s not about money per se; I can donate a large sum of money to charity and not think twice, but I won’t give my art away. I’d rather sell it to 100 people who value it as I do than give it away to 1000 who could care less. That’s MY choice.

I realize these are all unpopular subjects. Artists are never supposed to address their flock about such icky subjects as business and commerce. (By the way, and I hope it doesn’t sound disingenuous, but now would be a REALLY good time to express my undying THANKS for your support, which matters IMMENSELY in my ability to retain music as my primary endeavor. As a fan of others, I always used to wonder, “does this artist or group really care about whether I buy their stuff or not? Do they care that I go to their show?” YES, WE CARE!!!!! Now, more than ever). Most think that I should stop whining, grow up and embrace the Internet, become more active, tweet more, hype more, give more stuff away, etc, etc. Honestly, I’ve tried…and will keep trying. But the bottom line is that not every paradigm or system is right for everyone. We’ve all been told for years that the Internet is our Savior; it’s cool, youthful, hip, the solution to every problem, and if you aren’t joining a new networking site on a weekly basis, you’re a social pariah. Sorry…I just don’t feel that way. I’m old enough to know that when 99% of the population is marching lockstep in one direction, sometimes it’s wise to break rank and go the other way. Plus, I simply don’t like sitting in front of a computer screen all day.

I’m not saying that I don’t use the Internet on a regular basis; I do. And obviously I’m very proud of this site and its ability to support itself through the store. Honestly, I just think a large portion of the dialogue and content available online is an utter shit fest: a Pandora’s box of violence, neurosis, bad impulses, and bad intentions. It has become the “Super Horror Show” the Last Poets could never have dreamed of, like bad television on steroids and angel dust simultaneously. CL Smooth memorably called television “a schism…negative realism.” And much like the TV of the ‘60s and ‘70s, you will NEVER hear or read anything negative about the Internet ON the Internet. There’s too much money to be made, by someone somewhere (and hey, why ruffle the feathers of the goose that’s laying the golden egg, right?). 20 years from now, it will be interesting to see what hindsight reveals. I predict a flag on the time-line: when we moved closer to becoming a passionless, listless, hollowed-out society, one in which art and nature could no longer provide the psychological shock to the system required to endure another harrowing day of terror alerts and super-bugs. Music can only suggest sex and violence…the Internet provides both, full frontal and full strength, 24/7. Maximum dose.

Whatever…what will be will be. As long as I breathe, I’ll make music, love music, support music. I used to get in fights at school to defend my right to listen to rap, and I’ll fight on against any institution or prevailing thinking that seeks to dictate to me how and when the music I make is to be disseminated. If there’s 50 of you, or 100, or more out there willing to accept my right to choose, as I accept yours, then welcome aboard…you are my fan base. The rest of you that don’t, and want me to play someone else’s game…I wish you well. Let’s just leave the subject at that and call it what it is: a mutual misunderstanding.

Regardless, it’s going to be a hell of a year. I am working hard on new music, and hope to share some of it with you in the coming months (really!). I’m fully aware that there are many former fans that insist my best work is behind me. Well, respectfully, I disagree. It’s not easy walking the tightrope between artistic validity and financial solvency, but I stand behind all of the decisions I have made to date. What matters to me is that EVERYONE reading this knows that I take my career, my music, and my fans EXTREMELY SERIOUSLY. When I started in music 25 years ago, my mission was to provide an alternative, to expand the scope of choice available to music lovers like myself; and above all to demonstrate a willingness to go the extra mile and put the MAXIMUM EFFORT in EVERYTHING I DO, so that the bar continues to be raised, not lowered. Whether that manifests itself on stage, on record, or as a character in a video game, I honestly feel that I have given it my best, win or lose, and I’m proud of that. I have to believe that your continued support is a vote of confidence, which I take great comfort in as I strive to create some of my best work to date.

I may not be the best looking dude out there…I may not be the most linked-in, the most prolific, the most successful…but I’ll be god-damned if I’m not up there with the most passionate. If you agree with what I’m saying, that so much music we’re fed is utter GARBAGE that insults the intelligence, then no matter where you’re at…the States, the UK, France, Japan, Canada, Australia, wherever…we’re ALL outsiders, and we owe it to each other to band together and fight for something better. Personally, I’m loving the challenge, and when the time is right, I look forward to reconnecting with all of you.

Until then...

DJ Shadow

This is a bit of a sidetrack, but one comment struck me.

"so much music we’re fed is utter GARBAGE that insults the intelligence"

Here's the problem with this:

Find me an artistically-inclined DJ/"produca" who thinks Top 40 music is crap and I'll find you a composer/theorist who thinks Shadow's music is repetitive and simplistic. And I only use Shadow as an example because this is his site. You could substitute Aphex Twin or whoever you wanted in there. The point is that there's always a bigger snob than you. All this beat-based music is pop music compared to the works of the baroque and classical masters and the composers of the high art tradition of the 20th century. So I don't think we should be so quick to label some music as "garbage," because, to use that same metaphor, one man's trash is another man's treasure.

But to the DJ's main point, he is right to value his music, and those that steal will always find a way to justify it. I've said it on many internet fora in the past, but I believe that the main reason people are so cavalier about pirating music is that you can't get shot downloading an mp3 like you can if someone catches you stealing their rims. It's all theft but that's the nature of the (human) beast and it likely will never change. So adapting and overcoming piracy as an obstacle to making money in music is something artists like Shadow will have to do.

Also, remember that there are many ways to make money in music. They may not all be as fashionable as being a DJ Shadow but I would argue they are no less fulfilling. There's a whole world of music out there. Any musicians who want to make a living doing what they love would do well to broaden their horizons.

After reading through these comments , a couple more points: first, everyone trying to claim filesharing leads to more sales, and that people who listen for free buy more music ,give it up. THis has been disproven in dramatic fashion by the total collapse of the record business and the total failure of downloading to make up for the lost sales. It's just not true. If you listen and then buy, good for you. Most people don't. I keep seeing people cite a "canadian study". Look fuck the study, ask ANYONE working in music and they will tell you there is almost no way to make money.
The sheer nastiness of people when told they should pay for music they enjoy is truly depressing and disgusting. You pay for video games , but musicians should beg , right? You don't even realize how much you have internalized conservative anti-artist ideas. Forcing artists to be beggars is not revolutionary.
Artists deserve to be paid for their labor like anyone else. Try not paying a roofer or plumber.

As a fellow dj/producer/struggler , I just want to say THANK YOU shadow for speaking your mind. I think the only way this is going to change is if it becomes extremely uncool and immoral to download for free. For that to happen people need to speak up and change attitudes.
THe next industry that will be destroyed will be publishing. Oh those greedy authors! Books are such a rip off! Etc Etc.

Well, I always loved music, I play music (alone, it's too bad), and I always bought CDs. I think "material supports" are dead since CDs came out, because they're just ugly. Might be the plastic, might be the size, it's just an uninteresting object - what is left is the music.

I share some opinions of Shadow, but maybe do not agree completely. I see a possible confusion between root causes, and symptoms. I'm really not sure internet is the cause of interest in drugs, sex, terror, individualism and music stealing. It's just, sadly, something many wants, and they find a good and easy opportunity with internet.

I personnally like to make my mind before buying, and merchants are fine with the "try and buy" feature, except they'd prefer to always keep control on the "try" aspect, which is understandable. I might appear as an utopist, but I think that here comes the "education" part. And the only education that is given on these subjects to the mass of music consumers is : "you are a terrorist, you steal music, if we could find a way we would throw you into jail". When I BUY a video, I have to wait for minutes for these threatening menaces to end. And if I want to buy something really unusual, well, I just can't find it.

But people understand. You have to be just a little faithful. Believe me. Passed the excitement of being able to get anything from your home, comfortably, many realize that the money they did not spend in crap, could be spent on things they value. And as you said, at least, fans will always be. It's a problem of giving a value to things, services, objects, and it's far more than just music CDs, it's just about everything in our society. It's somewhat difficult to blame those who don't think music has a value. I think there is quite a few interesting music out there, maybe more than ever. Still, FM radio is just full of not-always-bad, but easy and forgettable music and tunes, made by people who just want to earn money ("artists", producers...). How many CDs of this kind, with only the single being of any interest, and all the rest being just crap ? I think the crisis is more about popular music, commercial music. This kind of music targets an audience, and maybe the most important in number. But this kind of music has less and less respect for its audience, considered just as "buyers". As long as it will be, I believe people won't have any respect for music business, and if they don't, how will it be possible to convince them that some music has value and should not be downloaded for free ?

For DRMs, I think it's just a bad answer. Piracy always existed, and measures against piracy also. It's just not the problem, because no one will ever be able to stop it. CDs were supposed to resist against time. It was not really true. Quality was not that good. Packaging is ugly compared to vynil. Legal MP3s can most of the time only be read on only one support, for limited time, and are expansive considering there is no material support, no production activity (except server hosting)... These are details, and have nothing to do with artists, but it's sad to see that music companies still rely on such stupid efforts, instead of trying to put back some magic in the whole thing. The only magic they can put is delivering numerous "best-of compilations" of always the same musicians...

So what I do, is tell all the persons I can, that there is good music, yes, and that if they like it they should buy it. I always fight against the idea that music business is just full of crap, because it's just not true. It's like it has ever been, it's just not easy to find. Internet is the best and the worst at the same time, it's like its audience. Use Internet and all possible means to promote good music, is the best we can do. And if nobody cares, sadly the ones who care will be the victims.

PS : sorry for my english...

My thoughts. They may be right, they may be wrong.

I've worked on the periphery of the music business, been a DJ and have recently started producing. Prior to the producing, I held a belief that the music industry was getting it back in spades for all the negative karma it pumped out during the 80's and 90's. Ripping off artists, fans, suppliers etc. I don't think they helped when they all got together to form the big bad 4: Universal, Sony, Warners and EMI. When London Records and A&M were licensed to Polydor, some of the most influential underground music ever produced was presented to the mainstream. What has curtailed a lot of the creativity of the (major) labels is the change in power from the A&R division to the marketing/accounts dept. The fact that CD's overtook vinyl as the medium of choice also didn't help as CD's are easily copied. Vinyl as a DJ medium did have it's limitations (ie. How heavy is a 100+ box of vinyl? To take on an aeroplane?!!) and now that CD/MP3 players are the norm, tracks that are exclusive and current can now be carted around in a pocket. This must be beneficial to the clubber no?

The internet has now made the problem of copying 1000 times worse for the simple reason that it is seen as victimless crime. Flipping the bird to the major corporations. If the independents were around around today would people still feel the same? Probably.

People work to incentives and deterrents. At the moment, only large scale file sharers get prosecuted, and even then very few. DRM was seen as heavy handed as people argued that once you bought something you had the right to copy/back up. Fair enough, but as a lot of these people still remember buying CD's and making back ups (ie. copies for friends) they were ones kicking off the most. Give a DRM mp3 to a 9 year old and he will say thank you. End of. I think of DRM as like vinyl, you scratch your 12", you buy a new one. Done it loads of times (and @ £5.99 a pop as well!) and didn't complain. Either DRM or only make music available as a stream through wireless or 3G, any other way and people are not going to have an incentive to buy music. Plus, create algorithm's to trawl the net flagging up sites which house copyrighted material and penalising ISP's (deterrent). Ah I hear you ask, why should the ISP's be penalised? An algorithm could easily find multiple illegal MP3's on a server and the ISP could be notified and action taken (I'm sure they would if it was child porn). P2P is a problem which I haven't cracked yet. DRM again?

Back to revenue streams for today's artists. In the change of peoples attitudes to begin paying for music again, couldn't the big 4 come together and say "OK, enough is enough, we're going to shut down any new material for 12 months". Yes it would hit their pockets but if it was a wake up call to Joe Public to start paying and it was put in such a way that it was for their benefit by allowing new talent to prosper (incentive), wouldn't it pay for itself in the long run?

So, Shadow, how do I make some money for this album I've just finished? :-)

"We do this for the love of it, this is our life, we'll be doing this 20 years from now and I want you to know that there's still people who believe in music as a form of communication and a way of reaching out to people."

"So with that in mind, let's get started."

Respect for hitting hard on topics other artists would steer clear of in anyway possible.
First off I agree with the comments pertaining to music being art and that without some sort of financial compensation, most would had never been made. It's sad that the world we live in has left so many of those with a musical passion unable to survive in a musical career, while the played out so called "Internet Sensations" cram the airwaves and reap the benefits regardless of their talent.
Sadly this seems to be the direction of the modern music industry. I'm hoping you can stick to your guns and continue to produce music that will inspire, a record that we will throw on ten years from now and fall in love with once again. Although it may seem that it is becoming harder to generate money in the music industry, I feel credit will be given when deserved; meaning people will have no problem paying for music which they truly love.
The only idea that I disagree with is the how the internet is merely a web of garbage. And I will confess there is a ton of it, but if we can seep through that trash we find an incredibly powerful tool allowing new artists to be found. It's given us the ability to discover new music rather than embracing whatever record execs push on us through the radio. The internet was how I originally found the song Organ Donor and went on to follow your work.

Beyond that I'm excited to hear some of the new stuff and took a listen to some of the remixes which I can't stop playing. Keep up the good work

"20 years from now, it will be interesting to see what hindsight reveals. I predict a flag on the time-line: when we moved closer to becoming a passionless, listless, hollowed-out society, one in which art and nature could no longer provide the psychological shock to the system required to endure another harrowing day of terror alerts and super-bugs. Music can only suggest sex and violence…the Internet provides both, full frontal and full strength, 24/7. Maximum dose."

Very well written.

Shadow, You must help lead this musical revolution. It is your calling. I appoint You, and I will be on board as a humble and faithful soldier! The guys at the bottom who are struggling can not destroy the machine. You are an inside man and can wage war at the core. I know it sounds like the rambling of someone who watches too many movies, but I'm fucking serious. The system can only be destroyed from the inside out. You can vent all you want in text, but without action, nothing will happen. Besides the untimely destruction of OUR music. I broke free from top 40 in the mid 90's thanks to you, DJ Krush, DJ Cam and others. The youth are growing up with the wool over their eyes, and without the guidance of their Audiophile Elders, the music will die. THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED!!!

First off, I can't wait to hear the new music. I've been dieing for you to put out a new album.

Being a vinyl enthusiast I agree with the majority of what you say. As I have started to work on my turntable's mixing and scratching I have gained an immense amount of respect for your work. I fully understand that you believe your work has value and shouldn't just be given away to people who listen to it once and call it crap. I see that way to much among my friends and its sad. I do believe however there is a lot of great music to be found today despite what you may hear on the radio. Lately I have been finding tons of new bands I've grown to love.

Can't wait to see what you've been up to.