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Top 10 Reasons I Hate Year-End Top-10 Lists

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

1. Ranking things in order of how much you like them is a coping strategy of 9-year-old girls. I know people like to make top-10 lists because they're fun and easy, and people like to read them for the same reason, but that's Entertainment Tonight reasoning. Year-end top-10 lists are the unicorn stickers and glitter pens of music writing.

2. The concept of "best" is the enemy of individuality. I loved Dave Bazan's record and I loved Portugal. The Man's record. If I wanted to, I could put one on top of the other, but why bother? It's the same as saying "I like this one record, but I would have liked it better if it sounded more like this other record." Ranking things automatically presumes that the top-ranked thing is what everything else should aspire to be, and that's not how we listen to music.

What Phil Spector's Candor Says About the Standard, Sanitized Version of Rock History

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

I recently saw The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, a documentary about the great producer, at the Northwest Film Forum. Filmed right before Spector's (first) murder trial in 2007 for the death of Lana Clarkson (a crime for which he was eventually convicted in 2009), it's basically a long and fawning interview with Spector about the highlights of his music career, never addressing the night of her shooting and only barely referencing the upcoming trial.

For Would-Be Rockers, the Only Music School You Need Is Tuition-Free

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

There are times when the best advice I can give an aspiring musician is to drop out of school immediately. I loved college myself, and I highly recommend it as a mind-broadening experience and an opportunity to squander your parents' money, but I can think of nothing less helpful to pursuing a career in music.

Fortune favors the bold, in rock music more than in any pursuit besides jazz dance and the Special Forces, and artistic inspiration is not something to take for granted or lump in with other more prosaic life goals. If you're writing songs and want to play your music for people and make records, it's not like applying for a job at a law firm--no experience is necessary. The music and technical programs offered by universities and art schools are great places to learn jazz chops, study orchestral music, or learn technical skills to work in broadcasting and television, but to be a rock singer, producer, manager, or booking agent, you need to get down on the street and start living it.

Chucked Profit: Benefit Shows Can Be Bad Business

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

Benefit concerts are a big part of a musician's life. The idea of staging such a show seems noble but still edgy, which is why so many people with a good cause in mind think, "A-ha! We'll throw a benefit concert!" After all, what kind of tight-fisted and cynical performer wouldn't want to play for a worthy cause?

Successful bands--ones who don't have to work a day job to make ends meet--get asked to play several benefit shows a year, and in the end it's impossible to honor even a fraction of the requests. Yet saying "no thanks" to a benefit concert can be difficult and awkward. When you're starting out, you probably say yes to every request, but you learn to be selective. It doesn't take long to realize that despite the best of intentions, benefit shows are often ill-conceived, poorly promoted and disastrously run.

What's the Headline? Journalists Aren't the Only Ones Who Constantly Contend with This Question

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

"Who is the headliner?" is a question that lurks at the heart of the music business, one that booking agents and managers are hired to answer, or at least to fight over until no one is happy. Every artist, even the ones you might assume have graduated beyond ever having to think about such a consideration, will face the issue the same way again and again.

Most audience members never consider this question. Small bands open for big bands, duh. But bands seldom fall neatly into categories of success. More often than not, at least one of the opening bands on a typical bill could be headlining the show themselves. Or maybe none of the bands is big enough, but together they can sell tickets. A tour or concert lineup can be a self-reinforcing projection: The band that headlines is presumed to be of headlining status. More than a few careers have been made this way. It's a never-endingly fascinating game to look at concert lineups and try to discern their underlying logic. Some bills are made in heaven, and some are disasters from the start.

Seattleites Play Songs; They Just Play Their Instruments

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

On a Sunday night off in Nashville a few years back, my bandmates and I took a field trip down to the Station Inn, a legendary roadhouse and country-music venue, to check out the Bluegrass Jam night. You might think a Bluegrass Jam would be a little outside our normal recreational ken, and you'd be right, but we like to experience foreign cultures while we're on tour, and besides, there was no cover charge.

We arrived to find that we were practically the only audience; everyone else had brought instruments and come to play. This was Nashville - some of these folks were session players and well-known gunslingers - but there were quite a few guys and gals in dusty overalls who seemed to have just arrived from the pages of The Grapes of Wrath.

Myths About Drugs and Booze In the Creative Process Have Been Perpetuated By People Who Should Know Better

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

Let's be honest: Drinking alcohol and taking drugs is fun. Unfortunately, in America there's a culturally ingrained fear of mentioning this obvious fact, and that obscures and garbles every attempt at rational conversation on the topic. Drug advocates are forced into the posture of arguing that marijuana is some kind of anti-anxiety and glaucoma medicine. Drinking and recreational drug use are only referred to in the national press in terms of a public-health crisis. This hysteria around the topic of getting high--the equating of all drug use with addiction and abuse--is one of the primary sources of the credibility gap that divides what we call "alternative" culture from "mainstream" culture.

Within the music community, getting high is a kind of shorthand for all the ways we're different from the high-collared moralizers on the other side of the cultural wall. The fact that drugs and alcohol are openly consumed and freely discussed within the music scene contributes to musicians' sense of themselves as more liberated, more honest. Still, the fact that drugs are a taboo subject in the culture at large imbues them with a false mystique even among people who should know better.

Seattle's 4 Most Conspicuous Rock Crowds

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

Going out to a rock concert in Seattle can often feel like a foreign-exchange program. I'm not talking about the musicians, but about the concertgoers from Seattle's other walks of life whom you might not otherwise encounter.

Depending on the show, the audience might be a much livelier mix of people than the acts they paid to see. Although most of the audience won't stand out as particularly distinctive, being clad in virtually identical fleece pullovers, certain subgroups bear mentioning.

Here's a rough guide to some of the people you might encounter at a show:

Superfans: They Love You First. They Book You Shows. It Gets Complicated

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

I got a letter the other day from a friend and self-professed "superfan" asking my advice in navigating some indie-rock politics. A local band that she loved dearly was being courted by major labels, and though she was thrilled for them, the band appeared to be letting it "go to their heads." She was upset not just because no one likes to see a young band develop an attitude, but because she felt she'd done a lot of work on their behalf and was being taken for granted. It got me thinking about all the hard work that superfans do on behalf of bands, but also of the pitfalls of the inevitable superfan disappointment that follows. I've been on both sides of the coin.

How Seattle Leaders Support KEXP's Move Will Say A Lot About the City They Envision It to Be

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

It looks by now that the redevelopment of the Fun Forest at the Seattle Center will not include a new facility for KEXP. The citizens' panel charged with making the recommendation chose the Dale Chihuly Ashtray and Candy-Dish Museum and Gift Shop instead, and rightfully so. As tempting as it might be for fans of KEXP to envision an "Indie-Rock Fun Forest" where Cloud Cult and Okkervil River play free concerts for girls with pink stripes in their hair, one quick look around that part of Seattle Center will reveal it to be a ludicrous fantasy. That area was long ago set aside for super-rich guys to build underfunded temples celebrating their questionable taste. The average person visiting the Space Needle on a summer day probably rode there on the Duck and is wearing a foam hat shaped like an orca. No one in that crowd is yearning to hear a Joanna Newsom in-studio.

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