General

Subscribe

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

Posted Jan 4, 2010

WARNING: RAMBLING TIRADE FROM A 37-YEAR OLD TECHNOPHOBE BELOW

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

Oh, and I'd just like to add, I'm seeing Al Green headline at the Sydney Festival on Saturday night, and going to Days Like This on Sunday - headlined by Roots Manuva, Method Man and Redman, and features Dilated Peoples, Ugly Duckling, Amp Fiddler, plus a host of local and international funk/hiphop bands and DJs.

If all you're getting in the USA is festivals headlined by Coldplay, maybe it's time to pack up shop and live somewhere better...

WARNING RAMBLING TIRADE FROM A 41-YEAR OLD POLITICIAN BELOW

I'm a spare time musician, but I'm also a politician... specifically, I'm the leader of the Pirate Party UK. I'm not here to canvas votes, and I don't think that I'm very likely to convince Mr Shadow to change his mind, but I've been calling for some serious debate about this sort of thing for ages, so I can't resist diving in when I see one happening here.

"When was the last time you saw a ‘new,’ post-record company artist headline a major music festival?"

I think we are in the transitional phase at the moment, it will be a while before pure talent can compete with big-label marketing budgets. Post record-company artists are the future, but not the present... having said that, I'm inclined to cite Rage Against the Machine's promise of a free gig following the Christmas number one as a post-record company event, although they are signed to Sony, their current success is purely down to a single fan with a facebook page.

"At this rate, we’ll be stuck with Coldplay for decades (no offense intended)." Well, I own exactly 1 U.N.K.L.E. CD and no Coldplay ones, so I'm not going to argue there!

"If you take away the compensation, guess what…the art stops." I'll skip the obvious one about Shakespeare and Leonardo doing all their work before copyright was even thought of, and give the more powerful argument: All the independent research shows that heavy filesharers spend more on music than before. It's pretty obvious really, people who want to find new music are the same people who want to support new music, and people who've heard your album are more likely (if you are any good) to buy it than people who haven't. The reality is that the compensation isn't stopping, it's just getting better targetted. Heavy filesharers have a wider choice of artists that they have heard enough to decide to buy than people who have radio 1's playlist on all the time. File sharing is good for musical diversity, and since it's also makes word of mouth a replacement for a record company taking the lion's share of profits in return for marketing and plugging it's good for profit margins.

"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."

I know I'll piss a lot of people off by saying this, but rap is quite possibly in decline because it's all been done now. As a genre, it's tailing off like prog rock, rockabilly, and all the other genres that have outlived their welcome. If you want to compare like with like, try counting NY rainbow chasers at Pop Idol auditions, now that pop idol has replaced rap as the industry's hyped shortcut to riches for the young and talented, all the wannabes have jumped ship.

"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.’"

I agree. The record industry needs to realise that putting 1/10th the cash into 10 times as many bands that each sell 1/10th as much as one big band still makes the same profit... and now that manufacturing costs zero per unit and marketing can be pure word of mouth there can be huge profits in giving a little bit of backing to a huge number of experiments.

"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 couldn't agree more. I'm sitting here in a room with 3,000Cds and 1,000 12" singles in it, and wondering where I'm going to put the rest of my music when it comes out of storage. The difference is that I think a post record company world is the best way to get back to a more risk-taking, diverse ecology. I need some way to filter through 20,000 bands on myspace and find the dozens that I will really love that I know are out there but I can't pick out from all the ones that are either making genres on music that I don't enjoy, or are just plain not very good. Legalised file sharing would give rise to a legal word-of-mouth recommendation culture that I believe is the only way to do that.

"Every artist is entitled to their own price point"

I think that's oversimplifying things. Copyright isn't a devine right, it's a deal with the public that you can choose to enter into or not. If you take the deal you get a limited monopoly on commercial exploitation of that work, that expires 70 years after you do for the tune and 50 years after it was made for the recording itself. The public gets rights as part of that deal too. Nobody's putting a gun at your head and saying 'you must release this'. If you don't like the copyright regime, you can always keep your music to yourself. If my party succeeds in legalising fiesharing, then we have simply evened up that deal a bit.

"Likewise, if $9.99 is too much to spend for one of my albums, so be it, your choice."

...but how do I know if I think $9.99 is too much when you won't let me hear it? A real life example: I once stood in HMV on Oxford St holding the CD of "Psyence Fiction". I looked at the CDs in my other hand, added the prices up and put yours back. I've still never heard it. If you let me download it one of three things will happen: a) I'll like it but not buy it; b) I'll hate it and delete it; or c) I'll like it and buy it. In none of those scenarios are you any worse off, but in one of them, you are better off.

"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."

I don't disagree, I simply don't know what value to place on music that I haven't heard.

"If you agree with what I’m saying, that so much music we’re fed is utter GARBAGE that insults the intelligence, then... we owe it to each other to band together and fight for something better."

I think we agree on the aim, but we differ on the method that we think will best achieve it.

No one expects you to give your music away for free.

What I expect is for you to be aware that we're music lovers as much as you.

Part of that love is SHARING MUSIC with our friends.

Sharing the passion of music with my friends is what I live for. It's why I write about music, why I DJ music, why I had a radio show, why I spend thousands of dollars going to gigs, and why I share my collection with my friends.

I didn't share Endtroducing with my friends because I hated it and hated you - I heard this amazing music and copied it for my friends and gave it to them so they too would know how fucking good hiphop could be.

Some of them went and bought it themselves. Some of them bought subsequent albums. Some of them went out and heard more stuff - UNKLE, SoulSides, Blackalicious, and so on. Some of them didn't.

And there's no way you can claim you've never done the same thing.

The thing that pisses so many of us off is when you and your music label try so hard to prevent us from sharing that music.

DRM on CDs which means they won't play in computers. DRM on downloads which means I can't put them on my devices. Region Encoding on DVDs which means I can't watch the US version of Shadow Live because of the staggered releases across geographical regions.

All these things hurt legitimate consumers. There is no logical reason for your CDs and DVDs to come out at different times in different regions. Putting viruses on my computer to stop me burning a CD to give to a friend is just going to anger me.

Furthermore, far as I concerned, I've already paid you. I have endtroducing on CD and vinyl, and I've travelled across Australia to see you perform live... please explain why I should pay for it again on DVD and MP3?

Because when you buy a Picasso, you only pay for it once.

Right on, Josh. I just finished the 33 1/3rd book about your work and I really identified with stories of your early years and passion for hip-hop. I had a similar thirst for reggae, which at the time meant finding other fans to trade tapes with and share knowledge. Your passion for good music has led you on the path you're on. I have always felt that the artists I appreciate the most follow their muse and stay true to whatever they're feeling. This is true for me in music, film, literature, and other media. So whether or not I like every particular record you make, I'm not expecting Endtroducing again, and I am completely behind you as you are one of the great music heads out there.

I hope you have checked out http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/ Bob Lefsetz is the voice of sanity in the music industry. I highly recommend you subscribe to his email list. He is all about the issues you discussed in this post. And he likes folks to weigh in with their opinions, so fire away.

JT

Well said Josh, and I've no doubt we're a bunch of outsiders out there.

Instant fan at your 1st Mo'Wax release (just a few years ago...), I'm still following you with the same enthusiasm, which only a few artists could pretend.
You'll certainly be glad to know that your music changed my life, literally.
I was some kind of digger back then (and I still am somehow, but Internet made things easier - I'm talking about buyin vinyls guys ! - which doesn't have only advantages, but you know what I mean...) and when I listened to In/Flux at the local record store (RIP), it was like : "Hey, what the fuck is that sound !". Actually, I was waiting for years for a true innovative and soulful music. And here it came...
Since, your work constantly pushed the boundaries, and I have great confidence that you will continue to inspire us through your records, performances and statements.

Thanks for keepin blowin our minds.

From Lyon, France.

Interesting. You make a lot of good points. I would like to ask though, or perhaps better remind you that for all intents and purposes you have "made it". You are successful. You have a team helping release your records. You have a following of loyal fans. And you can make a living from your art. Many of these ideas are easier for you to carry and live by.

But would you be saying this if you weren't already successful? I too, as well a large community of producers/musicians that I consider friends, really have no choice but to play the game. We're equally as passionate about music and yet we've been struggling for a number of years. We have children and day jobs. We are not much younger, myself 35.

I would love to be able to sell all my music, all the time, but the reality is if I, as a struggling producer, don't give away my music the trade off is that no one will listen to my music. And before profits is the need to have the music heard and appreciated.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that much of the music out available is garbage. And like yourself, my friends and I are here "to expand the scope of choice available to music lover" but as a result we are sacrificing our own prosperity and success.

In conclusion my point is to remember that

1. You too at one point were staring at an empty wallet, were hungry, but you still needed to buy new needles.

2. And that those are the times that many of use with equal talent, drive and passion for music have been, and still are, living.

3. If it wasn't for the technology that you are weary about I would have never had the chance to have my music heard, much less get paid (how ever meager it is).

I have complete and total respect to you, and your music. Don't forget where you came from. It will help you find where you are going.

May your subs boom with the force of a 1000 cannons,
bubbles
www.bubblesmusic.net

I've been a fan since entroducing and an internet user since 1997. I love UNKLE and have enjoyed much of your work through the years.

I became a part of the music business machine shortly after discovering the net when I became involved in selling memorabilia.

I now own a fairly well known band merchandise site and sell DJ Shadow stuff not because I sell a ton of it but because I am a fan and am supportive and have hope that DJ Shadow merch sales will pick up.

In my travels I have learned tons about internet marketing and what Radiohead, NIN, and others have done with giving away their music is classic marketing.

I respect your viewpoint but as much as I may or may not get flamed for my opinion I think you are missing the reason they have given away their music and it is not because they are feeling generous per se.

In marketing what musicians do by building a fanbase is called building a list.

Marketers want to get names (and as much other information) from people interested in their products and many times will offer something for free in order to get the curious to give that info.

There's tons of stuff being given away in exchange for customer info around the net because marketers know what one customer (fan) is worth to them over the years if they can get their info and then market (keep them informed of news) to them over and over again.

So in order to get the free cd (people who don't want to pay for the cd won't now or hoistorically) Radiohead, NIN, et al said hey let's give the basic / stripped model for free and upsell them with a cool limited edition with extra tracks or a whole extra album's worth of stuff, or whatever, after they get the free cd. Give away something of value in exchange for customer confidence and hopefully loyalty.

Not only that but now they have the fan's information and can keep telling them about news and such and keep them zealous fans that buy direct instead of letting them cool off and buy from best buy or some other huge monstrous wal-mart type organization.

But you have to have the follow up plan or giving the stuff away is useless.

I'm not saying that this will definitely work for you but if you have the mind to hire the right marketers I believe that it absolutely could be the best decade ever for your pocket regardless of whether or not you want to submit to the tastes / whims of the masses.

From what I have heard Radiohead did better by giving away their CD and following the above model than they ever did selling cd's through a record label.

My 2 cents

your passion has always been obvious. i have seen documentaries where you speak about you love and commitment to music, and it is clear that it is your life's work. but beyond that, it comes through in your music.

your music is so emotionally evocative. i know some of it is a bit dark for some music fans i've spoken with, but i love it! there is a certain darkness to much of it, but it isn't brooding, or trying to be dark for darkness sake. it is the kind of darkness that comes because of depth. when we let ourselves go deep, whether it's musically, spiritually, intellectually, politically, whatever, there is darkness. it is real. being able to sit with it, to experience it and appreciate it, adds to our experience as humans. without it, we would never be able to appreciate the light. when i listen to some of your music i feel an emotional connection to a place deep within myself. it does justice to unspeakable truths, and provides an emotional space to explore or reside with our own truth, that includes fear, and loss, and loneliness, as well the lightness, which we can savor all the better after winding our way through the vines.

you are truly one of my favorite musicians, and your music provides me with something totally unique. i am a writer, a dancer, an artist, and hopefully someday i'll be able to get back into djing. i did for a bit, while i was living with an ex-boyfriend who had turntables at the house, but when i decided to go back to school to become a writer and teacher, i had to make the difficult decision to put my time and money towards writing and school instead of music. but i have lists in all my journals of the songs i want to blend together, and maybe i'll get to someday. i write rhymes too, and would love to be able to put down my own beats to spit over.

i have an immense appreciation for dj's, and a see you, and other talented ones, as modern musical conductors. i grew up playing violin, with a mom and two sisters who played piano, and a dad who plays the trumpet. i am so grateful to have had music play such a huge role in my life, as it has made me a far more profound person. it makes me so sad and sometimes angry to think about how many people will miss out on exploring their musical potential because of changes in the industry, not to mention the elimination of creative school programs. music teaches us how to feel, and it helps us to relate to others. i know that there have been times while listening to your music when i have felt less alone, and even honored as an emotional creature, because of the way that it touches me. and as a musician, i'm sure that you appreciate how much the discipline of working on art can inspire change and growth for both the artist and the audience. i can only hope that our cultural evolution will include a place for the true artists.

as a writer, i struggle to lead myself and my readers, or listeners, to the unexplained and unexplainable, to the places that we cannot express in words, but can be felt. this is part of what gives me such an appreciation for your music. it takes me there, and no explanation is necessary. you provide something way beyond words, and experiencing it definitely helps me to connect to my own creativity.

so, thank you. you fill a place in hip-hop and electronic music, and just in music in general, that would be bare without you. i truly hope that you and so many other musicians are able to make a living that will allow the production of much more beauty to come. music is such an important part of human culture, one of the most crucial ways for us to celebrate our existence, to reach within ourselves for understanding, and to reach out to try to share it. or sometimes, just because we have no choice but to try to do some sort of justice to this incredibly humbling, beautiful, delicate, and painful life. we are the art/the creation, it is only natural that we would try to continue the cycle. you are an inspiration.

Ammm... You're right Josh, i mean, artist have to eat to, don't forget being a DJ, MC, producer or whatever is still a job... Big ups Shadow, Your fans in latin america support you as well, don't forget 'bout us, hehe... Holla from Medellin, Colombia... Peace!

Josh,

I fully believe that music is a conduit of your soul (if as the artist you let it be). I've followed your work for years and have see you constantly grow and evolve (You're an amazing story teller). As a listener, I appreciate that about all of the artists I follow. I look forward to seeing where you venture from here, and I'll always support your music.

Best wishes in 2010