Let the right ones in.

Skateboarding, music industry vampires, and "more."

Hey I forgot that I wanted to make June a half-price subscription month. So if you’ve been thinking of opting for a paid annual subscription, this is the most I’ve ever discounted it! 50% off for a year! Offer expires at the end of the month! Wow! (Reminder: here are all the previous editions of REPLY ALT in one handy place.)

Get 50% off for 1 year

I am sad to report that I have an enemy. I don’t want to have one, but my new foe has left me with no choice. Much like the Fresh Prince, I was minding my own business on the b-ball court when I was accosted by a local street tough. Here is a video of the incident, which occurred earlier this week:

why did he do this
June 17, 2020

Now, I don’t want to make this into A Whole Thing. I’m not turning to the internet for justice. I just want what I feel I deserve, which is an apology, a new iPhone 11, plus an additional $3 million for my pain and suffering.

On the upside, I’ve been skateboarding again as you can tell from the video. I haven’t done so seriously since I was a teenager and it’s all coming back to me very slowly and painfully. I got asked to write about re-learning to skate as a 30-something for MEL Magazine and the essay ran today if you’d like to read it.

Hmmm I think maybe they misspelled “very handsome and also really cool” in the headline? I feel like I come across a lot more pathetic and out of shape in it than I actually am. (If any A-list celebrities who want to go on a social distance date with me are reading this, I am actually in extremely good physical condition and rarely start sweating when I’ve eaten too much pepperoni. In fact, I never do that. I don’t know why I said I sweat when I eat a lot of pepperoni when that never happens to me. Ever.)  

Here’s a short section:

When I started skating in the mid-1990s, skateboarding didn’t enjoy the cultural cache it does now. Prior to the early aughts, when Tony Hawk’s incredibly successful video game franchise legitimized the sport in the mainstream, it was considered a dirtbag activity, as many, many of my young romantic interests explained to me. Skateparks, especially city-funded ones, weren’t as commonplace as they are today. Fellow skaters were also rare and hard to find without the connectivity of the internet. If you wanted to locate a place to skate and people to skate with, you had to speak the language. Waxed ledges and scuffed walls were signals to the tribe that an area was skateable. Similarly, any kid who wore sneakers that were completely torn up on one side was a member.

Twenty years and [sheepishly mumbling under my breath] 60 pounds later, skateboarding has fallen by the wayside in my life. Not due to any major injuries, amazingly, but just in the way adulthood slowly steals the fun things that make you happy. Middle managers, W-9 forms, health insurance plans, overdraft fees, parking tickets — these are just some of the thousand-and-one headaches that fill in the cracks formerly flowing with the joy of youth.

So, it’s not my typical musings about music to which you’ve grown accustomed/sickened, but I did manage to sneak a quote from a prominent band friend in there. I won’t say who it was or what band they play in, because then you won’t click on the article. So, just click it and ctrl+f for “punk,” I guess.

Oh, and while I’m plugging Things I Wrote, I believe I have an essay in the second issue of The LAnd Magazine, a new, independently run Los Angeles-based publication. I wrote it long enough that I truly don’t remember what it was about, although I think they tasked me with satirizing those ridiculous trend pieces that occasionally run in the New York Times real estate section about people who just moved to Silver Lake three weeks ago and think they discovered the place. Ah, mocking gentrifying yuppies. Where would my career be without you!

Alright but enough about my crappy kickflip and my satire and my sworn nemesis. How about some hastily thrown together thoughts that are about music. Since Covid started, I’ve been trying to imagine what the future of the music industry will look like and, specifically, trying to find some positive light at the end of this tunnel. Here are Some Thoughts on the matter, my attempt to force some sense of optimism, which I have entitled....

Let the Right Ones In

When we come out of this pandemic—if we ever do—virtually every element of daily life is going to be vastly different on the other side. Sometimes even unrecognizable. The way we work, the way we travel, the way we relate to one another—everything will change. That includes music. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say that the longterm impact on the music industry will be devastating. Venues are going to teeter and shutter. Small indie record labels are going to downsize or fold completely. Artists will face financial ruin.

Even in a best-case scenario where we could snap our fingers and resume activity on a certain date in the future, live music, like everything else, is going to require time to ease back to any semblance of normalcy. Initially, there’s going to be a backlog of touring. Thousands of shows have been cancelled over this period and all of those artists are going to be standing on the runway, waiting to be rescheduled. And those shows likely will not initially draw very well, as people’s confidence in congregating among large groups will understandably feel threatened. In short, it’s going to fucking suck and it feels impossible to even predict the specifics of the suckery because so much is still uncertain. 

But! As my brain does rapid-fire calculations of the nearly countless scenarios that could potentially unfold, I do see one optimistic longshot result. 

The music industry, like every money-making endeavor, has been plagued by useless middle-men for as long as it’s been around. Since a caveman made a rhythmic thud out of smashing a rock on a tree stump, some less talented caveman has sought a way to exploit it for personal gain. “Middle-men” is actually too kind of a way to put it. Vampires, is what they are.

I should pause here to clarify that there are many genuine, hard-working people in the music industry who actually give a shit about the artists they work with and have dedicated their lives to music, which I think is kinda how you have to be to find any joy in it.

But a good chunk of music industry folks range from completely useless to downright predatory. They come in slightly different stripes. Sometimes it’s some bro who graduated from the music biz program at NYU and needed a job after graduation and it was either work at a big record label or a tech marketing firm where his dad knew a guy. Other times it’s some old hardcore dude who’s still bitter that his Revelation Records band never made it big and so he takes it out on everyone by being a cantankerous piece of shit manager. 

If you’ve ever performed or worked in music in any capacity, you can likely put a face to the type of person I’m talking about. Maybe it was a bad manager or a bad agent or a bad… uhhh you’re not sure what the person actually did but they were always there to take their cut. They’re the people who treat art as a money-making commodity. They are in the business of picking winners and losers, and they move on when their bets don’t pay off.

But now, as artists’ livelihoods are being upended, indie artists are being resilient and innovative in adapting to the new world. They are leaning on digital tools like livestreams and gofundme and patreon that allow them direct access with their paying fans. What these endeavors lack in reliable income flow, they recoup in elimination of excess, and it’s making the vampires nervous. They’re seeing money being exchanged that they can’t get their hands on. They’re realizing that maybe, when live music finally returns, their services will no longer be needed in the new world.

The head vampires at Live Nation, a company that seemingly drifts further and further towards a monopoly on live entertainment, put their heads together recently to fix the music industry after Covid and guess who they think should bear the financial burden. Fucking artists, that’s who. Here’s Rolling Stone on the matter:

Most of the new policies shift financial burdens to artists: For example, the company wants to decrease the monetary guarantees promised to artists before an event by 20% across the board. Live Nation also says that if a concert is cancelled due to poor ticket sales, it will give artists 25% of the guarantee (as opposed to the 100% that promoters are currently expected to pay). Moreover, if an artist cancels a performance in breach of the agreement, the artist will pay the promoter two times the artist’s fee — a type of penalty that, as Billboard notes, is unheard of in the live music industry.

Truly, fuck this useless company. This would make touring impossible for small-scale artists who operate on shoestring margins as it is. But hey, thanks for the Blackout Tuesday posts! Super helpful.

It’s easy to be discouraged by stories like this, as they imply Live Nation’s stronghold on music will only intensify in the forthcoming period of post-Covid austerity. But I’m trying to see it as a positive. It feels like artists and Live Nation are in an endurance battle to see who can bleed out the longest, and Live Nation is struggling. Last month, they furloughed 20% of their staff as part of a $600 million cost reduction. They’re stockpiling debt, and have some hefty bills to pay in 2023.

Their stock also took a nose dive in March, and remains low compared with this time last year.

I realize it’s naive to think a multi-national, multi-billion-dollar corporation might even get its armor dented by a setback in our capitalist economy that coddles mega-companies like them, but businesses come and go music is eternal. Corporations can buy venues and impose ludicrous ticketing fees and take cuts of merch and generally stick their grubby little fingers in every crack of the music industry, but without artists, they have no product to sell.

I believe artists will survive. I believe they will emerge with more power than they previously had. I believe they can scrape these useless middle-men off the bottom of the industry. I believe they can outlive the vampires. When the music industry reopens its doors, let the right ones in.