ReCode To Vox

They couldn’t make it on their own.

Walt Mossberg, one of America’s two most famous tech columnists, shot himself in the foot. He left the “Wall Street Journal.” They’re finding out in news what we already know in music, you can go it alone, the internet allows you to do this, but in a chaotic world he with the established presence wins, the major record labels figured out the internet and the big news sites still rule.

What about BuzzFeed, and the “Huffington Post”?

The HuffPo is in decline. You can read about it in the “New York Review Of Books,” which no one opens except for intellectuals, but at least enough to keep the publication going. If you were gonna try and start a new printed book review today…FUHGETTABOUTIT!

But once upon a time the HuffPo was new and different. It focused on left wing news and link-bait, before link-bait littered every webpage you went to.

And BuzzFeed invented the listicle.

What did ReCode invent?

Absolutely nothing.

We don’t need me-too, we need new and different. And unless you’re gonna do new and different, stay where you are.

Ezra Klein left the “Washington Post.” He said his Vox site was gonna be different, and it is, a bit, but not significantly enough to gain traction.

Nate Silver left the “New York Times” for obscurity. The election prognosticator, our national data interpreter, put a stake in his heart and keeled right over. He started a whole website, 538, for data-driven articles, but the “Times” just doubled down with data and created the Upshot. Even worse, Silver didn’t realize if you’re starting from scratch you’ve got to have stars. And he’s the only star on his site. He’s earned my attention. But the rest of the writers on his site parsing the numbers…WHO ARE THEY?

And then you’ve got David Pogue, Mossberg’s nemesis, who left the “Times” for Yahoo and was promptly buried in the tsunami of bogus information on that site. He went from being one of the two experts to a nobody.

So what have we learned…

Just because you’re a star don’t think you’re bigger than the enterprise.

That’s what the film business has learned. They don’t pay stars as handsomely as they used to. As for these same stars funding their own movies… They have the twin hurdles of raising capital and distribution. Never mind having no ongoing catalog to keep them flush. That’s the movie studios’ greatest asset, as it is the record labels’, their historical product. It gives them guaranteed cash flow and bargaining power. That’s why the labels got favorable deals with Spotify…their copyrighted material!

As for records… George Michael sat on the sidelines and sued Sony and he never had another hit record. Trent Reznor did it his way and he got artistic freedom but fewer people cared, and he had to do so much himself other than create art that he ended up going back into the system.

When the world is wild and woolly, new and exciting, pioneers fight it out for eventual dominance. But once the landscape starts to coalesce…pick another venue! This is Tidal’s big mistake, not the press conference, but wading into a pool already filled with sharks.

The major labels control the modern music world. You can get started alone, you can even get some traction, but to break through big you’ve got to play with the established entities, they own radio and to a great degree publicity. Sure, you can do it your way, it’s just gonna be expensive and long. Are you up to that?

And it gets even tougher if you’ve got investors. They want their money back. They’ll pull the carpet out from under you when you least expect it, put heretofore unknown pressure upon you.

Bottom line… ReCode had the best tech news in the business. Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher built a team of experts. But nobody cared, nobody went to the site, they thought their minions would follow them but it turned out they were aligned more with the “Wall Street Journal,” their former home, than the writers themselves. It’s kind of like when the lead singer leaves the band…good luck! Sure, there are exceptions, but… But now you can’t even find the new sites, you can’t get the word out. Furthermore, the “Journal” hired Joanna Stern, a cheeky tech writer who is not as good as Mossberg but oozes personality, and Geoffrey Fowler, who’s technically sound, albeit dry. Turns out we don’t need THE expert as much as AN expert. (And the “Times” got Farhad Manjoo, who in his own way is just as good as Pogue.)

So if you’re starting something new…by all means go for it, it’s the essence of Silicon Valley.

But if you’re an individual star, chafing under the reins of your boss, believing you can go it alone…

You probably cannot. Especially if the world you live in is solidified.

“Vox Media Adds ReCode to Its Stable of Websites” (read this for the traffic numbers)

“Digital Journalism: How Good Is It?” (The HuffPo has traffic, but is in the throes of an identity crisis that presages decline)

The Children’s Crusade

I could not put this book down, I turned out the lights at 3 AM two nights in a row.

Then again, that’s not much later than my usual bedtime.

So the way I discover books is by reading the reviews and then going to Amazon and checking the ratings. I’m only interested in that which gets high ratings. I’m a believer in the wisdom of the crowd. Assuming the book gets the imprimatur of the gatekeepers.

And the “New York Times” said “The Children’s Crusade” was lousy.

Hmm…

I downloaded the sample chapter. Which I did not find riveting. So I did more research. And what I was stunned to find out was the author, Ann Packer, was the sister of George Packer! When there are two famous people in a family you wonder what it was like growing up in that house, what motivated the children. And I also learned Ann’s rep was built on the book “The Dive From Clausen’s Pier,” so I decided to check that out.

Do you want to read a book about a fiancee becoming paralyzed by diving into shallow water?

OF COURSE NOT!

But the sample cut like butter, I liked it, I bought “Clausen’s Pier.”

That’s another thing. If I buy it, I finish it.

And I also pay for books. It incentivizes me to read them.

As for the authors making money, ain’t that a laugh. Because except for a few superstars, they all have other gigs, or inherited wealth. The reason I’m paying is for me!

So what do you do if you’re unsure about getting married and your significant other gets paralyzed. Do you do the right thing or jump ship?

I’m all about doing the right thing, but sometimes do you get an excuse? I’ve got no idea what goes on behind closed doors. Nor do the people surrounding the protagonist in this story. You’re engaged, you’re madly in love. But maybe this is not true.

And the descriptions of sex are so right on you’re both touched and squirming. For all the online porn, we don’t ever really talk about sex. And we’re definitely unsure what love is.

So I read “Clausen’s” and loved it. Didn’t have a big, bang-up finish, but not every book is “Anna Karenina.”

So knowing I had a long flight ahead, I bought “Children’s Crusade,” and I couldn’t get into it. Until about 40% through (that’s how you judge where you are on the Kindle, by percentage), that’s when I got hooked.

“Children’s Crusade” is about a family.

The patriarch is a doctor, and he’s all about doing the right thing. That’s so rare today. He’s willing to sacrifice for his children, he just wants them to be happy. Are there such good souls out there?

And the four children…

The second, the girl, Rebecca, is smarter than her older brother Robert, who is plenty smart. How do you handle this? When all the attention goes to your older sibling?

And the third is a boy. Ryan is sensitive, and has a knockout, almost live-in girlfriend who… Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

And the fourth is the unwanted, unexpected, or maybe not, James. A troublemaker, a thorn in his mother’s side. The mother who…

That’s the linchpin of the story, the mother. Is she just a bad egg or did the father force her to behave this way? I wonder about this all the time. It takes two to tango. You get mad someone is not behaving in a certain way…to what degree are you responsible? Then again, I’m like that guy in the Paul Simon song, when something goes wrong, I’m the first to admit it…

And there isn’t a ton of drama.

Then again, the normal twists of fate are enough in a family.

But I saw myself in the book, and so much of the world I live in.

Which is why I keep reading.

And I’m unsure whether to recommend “The Children’s Crusade.” Because, like I said above, it doesn’t start fast. And when it gets going, it never speeds along. I’d say a third of the book could have been cut, but that’s not how the writer wanted to do it. And you should be able to do it your way. Because it’s all about total resonance with those who do care.

And I cared.

I’m still thinking about it.

“The Children’s Crusade”

“The Dive From Clausen’s Pier”

Robert Kyncl

He thinks curation is bullshit.

That’s right, we’ve been hearing for years that the solution to the industry’s problem, what’s going to save streaming, is curation. But Kyncl believes it’s all about fragmentation, not curation.

Let’s start at the beginning. Kyncl is a bigwig at YouTube. Google him.

And like the musicians bitching about not getting paid, he started at the bottom, and worked his way up. From the mailroom to assistant at a second-rate talent agency to film production to Netflix to YouTube. And he didn’t go to an Ivy league school but he did get an MBA.

Sitting with Kyncl is like getting your balloon deflated. People in the music business always go by feel. They feel they should be making more money. But they know nothing about business. What are the margins? Is the business sustainable?

So Kyncl says entertainment used to be a B2B business. He analogizes it to Switzerland. It’s clean and organized. Everybody wears a jacket and tie, you go out for an expensive lunch, because your customer is another businessman who needs to be treated right.

But now it’s direct to consumer. You can wear your t-shirt and flip-flops. Because your ultimate consumer does, if you connect face to face at all. Kyncl analogizes this modern world to India.

Ever been to India?

In fact, I have not. Was scheduled to go, but the visa didn’t come through in time. And we kept delaying our departure but then we missed the window and the point of my story is the people who are running the world have been places, and if you haven’t, you won’t get the jokes, you won’t understand.

But I know enough about the country to get Kyncl’s point. That India’s a land of endless roadside stands, utter chaos, except for a few brands.

That’s what rules the future, brands. I.e. stars. And if you’re not one, you’re part of the chaos, and no amount of curation will solve your problem, because people don’t have enough time, they gravitate to the brands.

Whew!

Do you have enough time to listen to every song in the playlist?

Of course not!

So YouTube believes in the smorgasbord, the endless sea of product, and from that emerges the phoenixes. Anyone who is trying to control what is happening is going back to Switzerland, when we all live in India.

P.S. We live in a YouTube world. You can argue all you want about Spotify, but the enemy is YouTube. Or your savior. Because that’s where your content can live for free, where others can find it and spread the word. So, what world do you want to live in? One where you have to have a major deal to record music, in $2000 a day studios, and if it’s not on the radio you’re dead in the water or one where the means of production are cheap, you can make a track on your laptop, and you can distribute it for free and let the public decide. Of course in the old world if you could jump the hurdle your odds were increased, but very few could get over this barrier. But we live in a modern world where radio is strictly formatted, even rock can’t break through, yet you’re bitching that the problem is Spotify? The problem is YOU!

P.P.S. Smart is sexy, it trumps money every day of the week. But you rarely see money without smart. The problem Jay Z has with Tidal is it’s only about money, and that’s not appealing to the public. Furthermore, the public has no problem with the amount of money musicians are making. And why should they, in a world where the price of concert tickets has far outpaced inflation and you can’t get a good one even if you want to?

P.P.P.S. You can’t expect the old paradigm to work indefinitely. In a world where we can see every star online, for free, why should we pay to see these same people lip-sync their songs in an arena? Want to move the ball in music, reinvent it! There hasn’t been a new sound, never mind a new show, in eons. Facebook invests in virtual reality and musicians add lasers, which first broke through decades ago, or hi-def screens. And all of this is fine, but if you want to break big and make as much as the techies, you’ve got to INNOVATE!

P.P.P.P.S.

“‘We’re going to fuckin’ save the music business.’ And I’m just sitting there thinking, ‘You might want to write a decent chorus for a fuckin’ start.'”

Noel Gallagher said that, his comments bounced all over the internet. Because truth sells, more than anything. And irreverence adds spice to truth. And in this sell-out nation of ours, people are all about lying to get ahead. But art is all about truth. If only Noel could get back together with his brother, if he could get a decent singer, we might care about his music. Noel’s got the attitude and publicity right, he’s even writing memorable songs, but singing them himself is like Robbie Robertson being the lead singer of the Band.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Splits aren’t going to get better, if anything they’re going to get worse! Because it’s hard to build a business on 30%. Apple can afford the loss, Google too. Jay Z and Spotify are just hoping to sell to someone else. And that’s fine, but should we care?

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. The biggest story in business is the tech bubble. I ask you, Universal, WME, all of you companies with tech investments and incubators, what are you gonna do when the crash comes? Why don’t you inhabit your area of expertise and focus on the art? Everybody’s envious of Silicon Valley’s cash. But the way you compete is not by doing what they do, badly.

Rhinofy-White Ladder

What if you put out three albums and no one cared?

You lost your record deal. Do you give up or..?

History is littered with people in this exact same situation, those who were given their chance and then faded into obscurity. But not one David Gray…

David Gray spent his own money and recorded “White Ladder” in his apartment. A desperate move, that’s for sure.

And the result went on to sell seven million copies.

But it didn’t happen quite that fast. Recorded in 1997, Gray put “White Ladder” out himself in 1998, but it didn’t really gain traction until the turn of the century, when it was rereleased on ATO and Gray opened for the Dave Matthews Band. Proving that just because it’s in the grooves that does not mean it’s gonna happen, go big, be successful.

BABYLON

With a jazzy groove akin to a Donald Fagen cut, one can honestly say that KCRW blew this up. “Babylon” is a track you hear once and love, if you’re in the target demographic…educated, financially successful hipster. To tell you the truth, the resulting buzz turned me off. Kind of like the one on Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” In both cases, the single is not the artist’s best work.

But that’s not to say “Babylon” is not good. After the album became ingrained in the culture, when “Babylon” was in the rearview mirror, it was a pleasant listen as part of the album.

WHITE LADDER

The title track. It’s so intimate, so heartfelt, yet not a dirge.

The feel, the groove, it’s enrapturing. You can get close, but you cannot touch the track, it lives in an alternative universe, like so much great music, you resonate and pay fealty, astounded that someone can feel this much and lay it down in a way that touches us so.

SILVER LINING

Slower than “Babylon” and “White Ladder,” “Silver Lining” is hypnotic. You cannot listen without your head involuntarily moving back and forth to the beat.

We were born with our eyes wide open
So alive with wild hope now
Can you tell me why
Time after time
They drag you down

But it gets even worse…

Down in the darkness deep
Fools in their madness all around

You’re licking your wounds, gaining the power to look for your silver lining.

Ain’t that life, they kick you down, but instinct keeps you going. And nothing helps as much as music.

MY OH MY

“White Ladder” is the best track on the record, but it’s “My Oh My” that touches me most.

It takes a lotta love
It takes a lotta love my friend
To keep your heart from freezing
To push on till the end
My oh my

Reflection. It’s the human condition, but anathema in our winner-take-all society. It’s hard to square the hurt inside with all the images and stories of success. How come they can do it and you can’t?

The truth is we all struggle. And occasionally you’re entitled to wallow, to kick back, take a drink or a smoke, lick your wounds, fortify yourself for the coming battle.

And when this happens, you want a track to ride shotgun, like “My Oh My.”

SAIL AWAY

Sail away with me honey
I put my heart in your hands

Where did all the adult records go? Made by intelligent people with multiple emotions that evidence experience? There used to be one of these on a regular basis. Before the internet blew a hole in the music business, made it incomprehensible, leaving those looking for more on the outside looking in.

It’s hard to convey how big “White Ladder” was. It dominated the airwaves and adult consciousness for years.

And we wanted more. But David Gray has been unable to deliver.

His later works are better than Alanis Morissette’s, who also garnered unexpected success after toiling in relative obscurity, but none have equaled “White Ladder.” It’s like he had to struggle, be pushed to the wall, to create at this level. The same way we make crucial, life-altering decisions when we’re so far down we’ve got nothing to lose.

Either you know what I’m talking about or you don’t.

Either you’ve experienced loss or you have not.

Either you know the magic of David Gray’s “White Ladder” or you don’t.

Rhinofy-White Ladder