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

Couldn't agree more, and definitely couldn't express it better myself. There are still definite beacons of talent lost in the sea of as-seen-on-tv-pop-sensations, but their survival is getting harder and harder.

The post also nicely highlighted the other side of the same problem: the up and coming stars no longer taking the approach of working hard and mastering their art but hoping that looking good and flashing their muff while getting out of an SUV will bring the 15 minutes of fame and a autotune backed single.

For what it's worth, Sir: your musical output - whether original music, mixtapes, shows, whatever - is amazing and now needed more than ever. I will personally keep buying CS:s (not downloading/ripping them) and going to shows (not watching them from YouTube as recorded by cameraphone). There is still a place for old-fashioned, hard working and talented musicians and I can't wait to hear the next DJ Shadow album.

Peace to everyone. May this decade be better.

Wait, what your not a politician? You definetly bring an interest twist to many subjects. Maybe you should be the new, fresh face of which we need? With some hindsite and a splash of old moral values of what is right and what is needed to survive in this world and in your industry. I have always rocked out to your beats and will continue to as long as they keep coming. Your style just keeps adapting to the current culture as it be and keeps the music current and fresh. I am a consumer and I am guilty too of dl'ing free music, but I spent many of years and many of dollars getting the freshest white labels for years-I've paid my dues. Babbling. You are current and you are always innovative and one must venture into the mainstream once in awile if it means to make some green. You know where your roots are, their here with us, the fans. Personally, I am scratching my way through the playstation to get to you! This is going to be a hell of a year and I look forward to hearing you rank about it again-with all due respect, your a hottie.

You are not alone! I'm a 51yr old fan that has been listening to you since UNKLE. And like the rest of your fans here, I too have seen the dismantling of intelligent music in the form of airplay. With Fidel Rodriguez and Mike Nardone (who to me were the guiding forces to more thought provoking and creative music) now off the air, it's getting harder to find that type of outlet...but I continue to search. As Android said, hopefully there will be an explosion of original thought that will jog the minds of the ClearChannel-listening zombies to let them know that there is better music out there. And as I've always told people, it's the DJ that will pave the way because they have always been the ones to control and direct through selection. Stay up, Brother Shadow...We Are Listening!!!

Totally agree, a souless world makes souless music and there is only a small proportion of artists who still seem to get what music is all about. I'll raise a beer to you Josh, Happy New Year and I look forward to where you go next. Peace.

Mr. Shadow...

I feel you on alot of these points. As someone who runs one of these dying breed indie hip hop labels with a penchant for envelope gets tougher everyday to compete with the machine. It literally feels like the general public becomes more ignorant on a daily basis.

To your point, it's ironic that folks thought that the death of major labels would come with the internet. The thought was 'more exposure for the indie artists!' 'no overhead!' etc. And while that's true to SOME extent (it'certainly a good avenue for promotion, etc)...the truth remains that the the almighty promo-dollar STILL won. Majors just threw money at their sinking releases, aimed their guns at the lowest common denominator of aesthetic and and prevailed. They continue their vice-grip hold on the collective conscience of the lazy via more promotion and online coverage (which is substantially cheaper than TV coverage).

So, one by one...indies have fallen off the wagon. I look at our bottom-line daily. With each release, it gets harder and harder to promote the next, and almost makes it not worth it to make anything else to put out.

But in the grand scheme of things...this music we make HAS to come out. We don't have a choice, man. It's our responsibility as artists to offer our perspective/filter on the world for those out there that need something to latch on to for survival. These people that support us - NEED us to keep going. I feel that strongly about it.

Basically, fuck it. 5 fans or 500 fans. whatever it takes. I still support your work and I look forward to your new projects. Best wishes with everything.


well said. As human beings we 'make the meaning' and 'create value' in any endeavour. Therefore, it's up to all discerning music fans to demand quality, be willing to make regular purchases and strive for better than than the mainstream. Looking forward to your next release. ;)

excellent. never compromise. as long as you can support your craft and your life please keep doing it, because i'll always buy it and support you and quannum.

a few months ago i logged onto the store and filled in the gaps in my shadow, solesides & quannum collection, it was pretty damn sweet to be able to do that and know the cash was going straight to you. i wish i'd been able to collect all the items on vinyl but alas, as you say we are in the internet age and i for one have embraced digital music and am happy to be able to support you in this new medium.

Definitely not alone. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Off to buy some more records...
"Don't Stop" "Keep On" - They didn't just say it for nothing:)

Still remember listening to Endtroducing in my buddy's car on the way to Kansas City- may sound stupid but I had no idea how those sounds were made, no clue as to the awesome world of DJ's and turntables- now i'm much better informed and gotta say you still kill it everytime I hear something new- keep on making new beats, new tracks, new everything and I know that myself and many others like me will be lined up, ready to buy into your new vision. Keep up the good work!

Definitely not alone. I agree wholeheartedly! Off to buy some more records... "Don't Stop" - for life!