All posts tagged creativity

  • A Conversation With Damian Kulash, OK Go singer/guitarist

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashOK Go are an American pop band. I don’t want to cheapen their career by naming just its apex, but it’s the easiest way to refresh your memory: they’re the band behind ‘Here It Goes Again‘, better known as ‘the treadmill video‘.

    On February 13 2010, I spoke to OK Go’s singer/guitarist Damian Kulash [pictured right] on behalf of Rolling Stone Australia. He’d been up all night shooting a second music video for their song ‘This Too Shall Pass’. The first video couldn’t be embedded anywhere outside of YouTube because of the restrictions put in place by their parent label, Capitol Records, which is owned by EMI Music. The band’s response was to upload an embeddable version to Vimeo, write an open letter to their fans explaining the situation, and seek outside funding to conceptualise and film an entirely different music video. [You should click the above links to watch the videos, if you haven’t already seen them.]

    Shortly before Rolling Stone’s May issue went to print at the end of February – confusing, right? – OK Go left Capitol Records, effectively undermining my story’s relevance. [More on that experience here.]

    Below is the full conversation I had with Damian, which is one of the last interviews the band gave while still signed to a major label.

    Andrew: Before we start, are you totally sick of talking about this whole issue?

    Damian: The politics of the music industry are… tiresome. I’ll put it that way. It’s important to me and I’m fascinated by it, but I’d much rather be thinking about making things, than how to distribute them.

    What kind of response have you seen from your fans in regard to your letter?

    It’s been pretty positive. My letter has been received by some people as a polemic, or as a big screed, but truly, the letter was just an explanation to our fans about why certain things weren’t available to them, because I think people really didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t see it as a big political move; it was just an explanation to our fans, and we’ve gotten very good response from them. I think they’re just happy that we treat them like adults.

    What kind of response have you seen from the record label? I read your interview on New TeeVee where you said your main contact at the label wants as badly as you do for the video to be embeddable.

    I think most folks at the label probably share our opinion that things should be easily distributed. There are a lot of competing agendas within the record label, so I’ve gotten a wide range of responses. The digital department of EMI France actually tweeted the letter and was distributing it because they felt it was a defense of their position. Other people felt like it was an attack. It’s a big company, so there’s been a wide range of responses.

    Beyond your fan base and record label industry people, the general public has also paid attention to the letter. I refer to your quote in Time about how you think there is a quiet majority who are just interested in seeing how the music industry works these days, and seeing your explanation from the inside.

    That’s definitely been the basic response that I’ve felt. I obviously can’t quantify it, but the loudest comments in the music industry in general are mostly from people who hate labels and who hate major labels and feel the industry is set up to screw musicians. I don’t feel like that’s generally representative. I think it’s easy to hate the machine. You really get those comments from people that actually try to make a living making music. It’s mostly people who have this purist idea of what music should be to them; give up their day jobs because they want their musicians to be absolutely conceptually totally pure and not ever have to worry about money for them.

    I read your Mashable interview where you said that a year or two ago, EMI switched the embedding stuff on all of your videos, but you didn’t pay much attention as you were making your new record at the time. Looking back, do you wish that you had paid attention? Would you have done anything differently back then?

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashWe have to pay attention to how our records and our videos and everything is distributed because we make ‘em and we care about how they get out there, but I wouldn’t be a student of the music industry’s technicalities if I wasn’t convinced that the animating passion in my life is making things, and how the distribution of them affects that. I know it sounds incredibly circular, but I don’t particularly care if the music industry works until I make something and it fucks up the way I want that thing to be shared with the world.

    I’m glad that when I’m writing music and recording music, in between records, I’m not spending my time trying to figure out the solution to the logistical problems of the music industry. Those are some things that we have to pay attention to out of necessity, not because we like paying attention to them.

    There is a quote from you in the letter where you say, “Unbelievably, we’re stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of sharing videos. It’s like the world has gone backwards.” As musicians, you must feel that having these kinds of conversations about the business side of music drains your creativity or your time that could be better spent creating music.

    It seems to me like there are a couple of things. One, the music industry is very clearly in an incredible crisis and that’s what makes this story complex. There is a lot to talk about because we’re up against what appears to be a sort of unresolvable problem. People want to talk about it. Two, I think a lot of us feel incredibly passionate about music and by its nature – almost by its definition – the important part of music kind of defies words. To me, what makes music sort of magical – what makes music the thing that I live for – is that you can communicate things like music’s four-dimensional emotions instantaneously. It’s like emotional ESP.

    I think when something comes along, something to talk about in music, something very rational or logistical and sort of left-linear logical, that’s attached to the distribution of music or to the manufacturing or production of music, then at least there is something to sink our rational brains into and some people really want to talk about it. Maybe this is something of a stretch as an argument, but we do a lot of interviews and it’s impossible to answer substantive questions about music because music is a feeling, not an argument. Whereas, everything that surrounds music – how it’s distributed, the politics, and the money behind it – gives you something hard and logical to talk about. I think that’s sort of why there is so much fascination on these things.

    Bob Lefsetz wrote in response to this situation that “if the labels want to maintain control, they have to first get the hearts and minds of the artists.” As an artist who deals with labels on a regular basis, do you share his view?

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashYes, in essence they do. I think that the value in music from which we derive the money in music can no longer be generated by limiting access. The way you assess value in most commodities is related to supply, the whole supply and demand curve. The reason you have to pay to have most things is because someone else restricts your access to them or you have to pay for the access to them. There are certain things that don’t follow that model and music has sort of jumped the barrier, I think.

    Twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago, music was a physical thing that could be bought and sold. Even if conceptually the music wasn’t, there was a way of controlling access to it: you either owned a CD or you didn’t. Either you had access to it or your friend did, or you got it from a library. More likely, you bought it and had access to music.

    Now that has sort of broken down and the music industry is not going to be able to get that genie back in the bottle. You have to find a different level to work with, and I think that – whatever the financing situation is, no matter which body is financing the logistical mechanics of music – that body will have to have a better relationship with musicians and record labels. Record labels deal in very black-and-white terms with this restricted access thing, and now everyone is going to have to believe in a new model simultaneously, otherwise money won’t be generated for music.

    By now you’re all too familiar with the arguments surrounding this YouTube issue, having lived them out and told the world about it. If you can comment on it, I’d like to know how EMI rationalise the ‘disable embedding’ decision to the average web consumer – the one who just wants to share their cool videos with their friends?

    There has been a conceptual shift between videos being advertisement and videos being product. They’re sort of ‘on the fence’ still. All labels still want their videos to be seen far and wide, but they also want to be paid for them to be seen far and wide. Whereas once upon a time it was just amazing that there was a website out there [YouTube] that would actually help you distribute your advertising. Now, there is a website out there that is actually distributing your product without paying you for it. I think that’s how they justify it. They want people to see it like: “we paid for that thing, how come you won’t pay us for it?”

    Do you think that the thought of the average web user even comes into their equation, or is it all just discussed in terms of profit and shareholders, as you alluded to in your letter?

    They’re not such morons that they can’t take into account what people want. Labels don’t have a singular mind. It’s not like one big beast with one agenda. I think a lot of people at labels understand what people want and are frustrated with the way things are working. I think there hasn’t been a very clear-eyed assessment of that shift in music videos from advertisement to product, or in general, of the attempt to blur promotion and monetization. There used to be an obvious revenue stream, and that was selling records [CDs]. Since that is shrinking so incredibly fast, now all the things that you essentially pay for to promote that revenue stream are now things that they’re trying to turn the tables on and get money for actually having done.

    I don’t think they’re incapable of thinking about what people want. I think everybody suddenly is trying to eat the hamburger at the same time that they’re still milking the cow. You can’t have it both ways.

    Final question Damian, and it’s a bit of a philosophical one, so take a deep breath. If labels continue to herd viewers into absorbing their artists’ content in specific web destinations like on YouTube, what are the wider ramifications for the nature of sharing content online?

    American pop/rock band OK GoFirst of all, I’ve been talking this whole time as if I have a kind of answer, like I know exactly what’s going on and there is an obvious path forward. I don’t know what the ramifications will be. The first step that seems obvious to me is we do need something like record labels to perform some of the functions record labels traditionally have. This is what I think the critics of major labels often miss, is that for all of their exploitative, greedy, and short-sighted policies, they did provide a risk aggregation for the world of music making. They invest in however many young bands a year and most of them fail. Those bands go back to their jobs at the local coffee houses without having to be in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal debt for having gone for it.

    If we don’t want to be just a domain of the independently wealthy and people who can take time off from their jobs for a couple of years to see what happens, or finance their own world tour while they figure out exactly how to make the number at the end of the column black, then somebody has to be doing this risk aggregation.

    Historically, when a band did well, or an artist did well, the profits could be so substantial that they would cover the other nineteen losses that the failed bands meant for a record label. A label could take the very extreme numbers of the music industry: you might have a less than 1% chance of success, but if you do succeed there is a massive reward, and it sort of evens them out over dozens or hundreds of artists a year.

    Something sort of needs to be doing that unless we want music only to be the domain of the independently wealthy. I think then you have to figure out what that means for content distribution. Somehow, some sector of the business has to be able to make a significant reward off of the success of that one-in-twenty, or that one-in-fifty, or that one-in-one hundred in order to keep the system running.

    At the same time, we all want this magical, wonderful, instantaneous global distribution – via the internet – to make music ever easier to get to and to make it more universal and more accessible. We have to figure out how to get the money that people are willing to spend on music into the hands of musicians, and into the hands of those risk aggregation bodies.

    Right now, it seems people are willing to spend money pretty freely on music. They just tend to do it more on hardware or on their broadband connection. People are willing to pay for extremely fast connection to the internet so they can download big files. They just don’t particularly care for paying for the file themselves, or see that as something they should be doing. People will pay a lot for an mp3 player. They don’t expect that part to be free, so to get people to value their music in that way, then we should figure out how to look at the system from a macro perspective and figure out a reasonable way forward.

    Thanks Damian. I admire your ability to speak coherently about the music industry, especially after an all-nighter. [The band had been up working on the second video for ‘This Too Shall Pass‘, which is embedded below.]

    I don’t know how coherent I’ve been, but if you can whip that into shape and make me sound like I was, then more power to you. I appreciate it.

    [You can read more about this story for Rolling Stone Australia here.]

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘Genero.TV and fan-sourced music videos’, November 2009

    Here’s my second story for Rolling Stone, from the December 2009 issue. It’s 600 words on an Australian website called Genero.TV, which allows fans to create music videos for bands for a chance to become their official video, and win $4000. The article was illustrated by Simon Noynay.

    Story below – click for full-sized version.

    Rolling Stone article, December 2009: fan-sourced music videos, by Andrew McMillen

    The Future of the Music Video

    Fans making official film clips for their favourite bands – is it sharing the love or just a way for artists to get something for nothing? By Andrew McMillen

    There was a time when a major artist could easily drop a few million on a music video; from Michael Jackson’s amazing $7 million “Scream” to more restrained efforts like the Gunners’ $1.5 million “November Rain”. These days, of course, it’s very different, and a modern classic like OK Go’s aerobic masterpiece “Here It Goes Again” is proof that even if you don’t have a budget, a good idea can go a long way.

    But what if you’ve got no cash and no big idea? Well, there is a solution. Melbourne-based website Genero.tv lets bands post new songs online and then have fans create videos for them. Submissions are judged by the bands and fans alike and the winning entrant becomes an officially approved, internationally distributed music video. The winning clip from each round also receives a $4,000 cash prize.

    Genero.tv launched its first round of songs in September this year with the support of 17 artists, including British electronic act Unkle and New York reggae group Easy Star All-Stars and an Australian contingent of Genero.tv artists includes The Temper Trap, hip-hoppers Hermitude, and up-and-coming Sydney-based indie rock band Bridezilla.

    “As a musician, it’s refreshing to engage with new people on a creative level,” she Bridezilla guitarist Pia May Courtley, who is an enthusiastic supporter of the role-reversal (and collaboration) between bands and fans. “There’s lots of people out there with great ideas making viral videos anyway. If anything, these people aren’t governed by ‘what sells’, so their ideas end up being more genuine.”

    For young artists, the Genero approach makes perfect sense, tapping into a movement that is old hat to every kid on the planet. As Elgusto of Blue Mountains hip-hop duo Hermitude reasons, “Our fans have been uploading YouTube videos set to our music for years, so we’re well aware of the untapped talent of filmmakers out there. Entering the Genero.TV contest could be their way of getting their foot in the door.”

    But it’s not just a curiosity about what the public can come up with that is driving artist involvement – frustration played a big part in The Temper Trap’s decision to join Genero.tv, reveals guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto.

    “We’d done a few costly music videos that we weren’t really happy with,” he admits, but stresses that getting good results, not saving money, was the major motivation. “Our involvement with the site isn’t to say that we wouldn’t pay the creator of the video we choose,” Sillitto clarifies. “We were fed up, and we saw Genero as a good way to get our fans involved in something tangible that the band is doing. It allows them to feel a part of the process.”

    Genero.tv director Michael Entwisle underscores Lorenzo’s statement. “From our perspective, deepening the fan-artist engagement is a main benefit for our featured artists. More engaged fans are going to be the ones who will pay more money for concert tickets, merchandise, and music. What we’re doing shouldn’t be seen as a disruptive model for the music video industry. We’re hoping it just becomes a complementary platform that suits some artists, songs and labels.”

    In a similar move this July, Sneaky Sound System announced the winner of their own online video contest for the song ‘It’s Not My Problem’. While it didn’t offer the same creative clean slate that Genero.tv does – entrants were supplied with green-screen footage of singer Connie Mitchell – producer/songwriter Angus McDonald states that the band would run a similar fan-sourced video contest “in a heartbeat”. “Music videos are such a lottery, even with experienced directors and producers at the helm,” says McDonald.

    As for whether the lottery is made even riskier by entrusting creative control to their fanbase, Bridezilla’s Courtley admits there’s always a chance it could turn out to be a disaster. “But,” she says, “like a first date or foreign food, you never know until you try.”

    Here’s my original pitch, sent September 1 2009.

    Crowdsourcing Fan Creativity
    Rolling Stone December 2009 cover: Them Crooked VulturesIn August 2009, a service called Genero.TV launched a business model that allows fans to create music videos for artists. This is how it works: artists contribute the songs and upload them for the fans; the fans create the videos and upload them to Genero.tv; then the world watches, votes and spreads the word.

    They’ve just released their first round of 16 artists and songs, which each feature different prizes. The overall prize for this round is US$4000, which will be awarded to the director of one of the 16 final videos. As I understand it, videos submissions are judged by the bands and Genero.tv, and all of the winning videos will become the artists’ official video for that song.

    Of the 16 artists, such as UNKLE, Easy Star All-Stars and Casiokids, 6 are Australian:

    • The Temper Trap
    • Bliss N Eso
    • Birds Of Tokyo
    • True Live
    • Hermitude
    • Mirror House Antics

    Cool idea. Let’s take a closer look.

    • Who’s behind Genero.TV? I can’t find any info on their personnel or the country where they’re based.
    • Who funds the site?
    • What kind of licensing is required for this kind of business model?
    • Who’s funding this business model?
    • Why did these Australian acts decide to jump on board?
    • What are the acts’ expectations of the quality of submissions?
    • What’s the value of the music video in 2009? (I’ll speak to some Australian acts who’ve had viral video ‘success’, to determine the outcomes)
    • Is this just a way for lazy bands to turn creative control over to their fans for cheap, or is it a genius idea to shorten the distance between artists and their fans?

    Coincidentally, Sneaky Sound System last week announced the winner of a $10,000 fan-sourced music video competition that they ran through their website. They’d provide a good supplementary viewpoint to this article.

    As with my first Rolling Stone story on streaming music subscription services, the interviews I conducted far exceeded the article’s word limit. Check back for outtakes from these articles here soon.

  • A Conversation With Ben Corman, Rudius Media Creative Director

    I don't understand the significance, either.Ben Corman is the Creative Director of Rudius Media. They’re an American web publishing company founded by Tucker Max, who wrote a book called I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell which is being released as a movie in September 2009 (production blog here).

    I’ve followed Tucker Max since around 2004. Initially, because I was the typical teenage male attracted to his hedonistic story-telling; lately, because Rudius is an interesting case study as a (mostly) public web media company, given that their staff is largely comprised of writers. Corman is averse to publishing photographs of himself – he was adamant that the graffiti pictured right should be used to depict him – but he took the time to respond at length to my questions about Rudius Media, his role and their future.

    How did the opportunity to sign on with Rudius come about?

    I sort of fell into it. A couple of months after I joined the messageboard, Donika [Miller, Rudius Editor] and Luke [Heidelberger, Rudius Director of IT] started the Submitted Stories board and, being that I wasn’t doing much with my time, I started writing short stories to get posted there. I’d always (sort of) written, but it was hard to sustain any enthusiasm for it without having anyone to read my stuff. That board was great because for the first time my work was getting put in front of an audience who didn’t give a shit about me and would give me honest feedback.

    Donika noticed me and offered to help edit my stuff, which was a huge ego boost. It was really nice to have someone say, “hey, this is good and I believe in it.”

    I’m not sure what happened after that. I kept writing and about a week before I was supposed to see Tucker speak at UCLA he messaged me about my writing. We went out for drinks after the speech and talked about the company and what he was trying to put together; I told him that I’d love to come on board. I assume that Donika put my name out there as someone with a little bit of writing talent. and it was just luck that we happened to be in the city at the same time.

    How does your current role differ from what was described to you at that time?

    You assume that I had a role described to me. The night I got myself hired, I’m not sure Tucker ever said what I was going to do. He said something like “I’ll give you something easy to do, just to see how you do at it and to see if you’re a good fit. If you do well, then I’ll give you more work. If you blow it, no harm, but it means you’re not a good fit, and we’ll go our separate ways.”

    The first thing I did was some transcription work for Robert Greene’s site. Then after that I started editing a few of the projects that we had going at the time. I was just happy to be a part of the company; we never really had things like job descriptions or roles.

    How do you describe the company and your role when you meet new people?

    Rudius Media. Also pictured: Russell Crowe's silhouetteI sort of evade the question when I meet new people. For most people, what they do to pay the bills and what they’re really passionate about are two separate things. I like to get right at what they’re passionate about, because that’s always more interesting than the sort of small talk that surrounds “so what do you do?”.

    Usually, when the question comes up, I say I work for a start-up media company and I’m the creative director of the literary side. That’s enough of a mouthful that most people nod without knowing what that really means.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’ll talk all day about writing, but only because I find that sort of thing really engaging. And there are parts of my job that I really like discussing, like how the internet has changed content distribution, or what it takes to make a living as an artist. But those topics are usually divorced from the discussion of what I do professionally. Most people have some sort of creative outlet, whether it’s DJing or coding or climbing or writing or photography. It’s easy to have a wide-ranging discussion about those interests without it having to be bogged down with talk about the day job.

    Do you find that people tend to have difficulty accepting what appears to be a relatively unclassifiable, ‘new media’ company? Do you find yourself oversimplifying your role to fit into what people are able to understand?

    I think most people don’t know how the movies they watch or the books they read are made, and consequently they don’t really understand the difference between Rudius and a more traditional media company. Which is fine; I don’t expect people to know the ins and outs of either industry, and I certainly didn’t understand the nuances of this business before I worked in it. When I talk about what I do or what Rudius does, they don’t realize that we’re different from the other players out there. Conceptually, their understanding that we’re different stems from us being a start-up and that we’re still trying to establish ourselves in these spaces.

    When I talk about what I do and the many hats I wear, it’s in the context of a start-up. People understand that my job can change pretty much on a daily basis, depending on what Rudius needs at the moment. So I don’t ever really have to simplify what my job is. I do whatever needs to be done.

    People are more interested in the fact that we’re a start-up and that I work from home, than what I actually do day-to-day. In some ways I live the dream. I don’t have to worry about making it into an office. I don’t have hours to keep. I travel a lot. As long as the work gets done, everyone is happy. I think a lot of people would prefer the system we have over the traditional eight hour work day.

    When you first met Tucker, did he buy you a copy of [Robert Greene’s] 33 Strategies Of War like he did for Ryan Holiday? [a fellow Rudius writer, pictured below right]

    Ryan Holiday at an American Apparel press conference. Photo by flickr user 'Steve Rhodes'Nope. But Tucker has this amazing library that I’ve borrowed more of my fair share of books from. For a while I was reading like a book a week out of it. And he has this habit of ordering books twice, so I’ve been able to get a number of free books that way.

    When I first met Tucker, I knew he was a Robert Greene fan, so I lied and said that I’d read all his books and was a huge fan myself. Things probably would have turned out the same, I’d have still gotten the job, if I’d been honest but I was reaching that night because I really wanted to work with Tucker. And once that lie was on the table, I had to go back and read Robert Greene. I was too poor to buy the actual books, so I blew off studying for my finals and spent the next week in the UCLA bookstore reading Robert Greene’s work.

    In “I’m With The Band“, you wrote: “And if you already think I’m an asshole this is where you should probably stop reading.” Can you explain that line? Why the pre-emptive self-defense?

    I was trying to say that I realize how ridiculous it is to complain about a positive. I’m aware that what’s coming is going to be good for all of us. If the movie [I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell] does well, we’ll be in a great place. We’ll have resources, we’ll be able to work the artists we want to work with, and we’ll have our pick of projects.

    A lot of people are going to look at what’s coming and think I’m crazy to miss the days when we were run out of a living room. And they’re probably right. I assume that things only get better from here on out and that I’ll have more opportunities going forward. Which is why I feel like an asshole writing that I’ll miss it. But Rudius has been such a big part of my life over the last few years that I can’t help but feel something now that we’re about to undergo this huge change.

    In September 2008, you took a hands-on approach to updating the Rudius Media homepage with new content almost-daily. What was the strategy behind this decision? Has it succeeded, or is it too early to tell?

    As we’ve grown and added sites and as some authors have fallen off from writing, we’ve not done a very good job showcasing who is writing and where the newest and best content is. The change was supposed to (in some small way) address that shortcoming, and give readers an easy way to stay on top of what’s happening in the Rudius universe. In looking around at Rudius Media, it was a pretty big oversight that a new media company wouldn’t have a portal for it’s own content.

    It was also the first part of a larger strategy to redesign the sites. I had hoped that we’d be able to get that redesign done this year, but because of the budget, it looks like that’s going to have to wait until 2010. I want to make Rudius Media more of a community instead of each site having it’s own little fiefdom. So we’re looking at features such as single login that will allow a reader to comment on any of the sites as well as log into the messageboard, dynamically updating blog rolls that show which sites have been updated and where the latest content is and the ability for our readers to interact with each other through profiles and other such web magic.

    It’s really too early to tell if all of this will be a success or not as the changes to the Rudius Media site are just the small first step. There should be a lot of cool stuff happening next year.

    How do you deal with procrastination? Have your work habits improved of late?

    I used to just throw myself at the day with this sort of checklist mentality. So if I wanted to update the blog, I’d just sit there first thing in the morning and sort of command myself “ok, now write.” Or if it was midnight but I had some editing to do, I’d sit down and try to edit. As a result, I’d just be super unmotivated to actually do the task in front of me. so I’d waste time on the messageboard or on my RSS reader.

    I’ve found that I’m better at certain tasks depending on the time of day. So mornings I can deal with the tech side and keeping the servers alive, usually over breakfast. Afternoons I usually spend on the content side; editing, looking at author applications, reading my RSS reader. And I’m better at writing post-8pm. So now I just block my day off into three-hour blocks and I just stay with whatever task I’m on for those three hours.

    It has the advantage of not feeling like I’m going to spend my whole day on one task and since I know, “okay, I’ve got three hours to get this done.”

    I also tracked myself for a week to see where I was wasting time. I realized that keeping my email open all the time was a huge problem, because every new email was an interruption to what I was doing. Now I only check it once an hour or so, whenever the natural breaks in whatever I’m working on come.

    The bigger problem though was my RSS reader. It’s easy to lose a whole day just sort of mindlessly reading articles and tagging them in del.icio.us. Now, if I find myself doing that, I make a conscious effort to close it and get back to whatever I should be working on.

    How do you define your business relationship with Tucker [pictured below left]? Do you consider him a mentor?

    Tucker Max. Six foot nothing.He’s my boss and the owner of Rudius Media.

    He’s not a mentor in the sense that he’s looking over my shoulder and giving me advice or direction but he’s always been there as a resource. And as I’ve tried to learn everything I can about this business, it’s been invaluable having him there to bounce questions off of. A lot of what I’ve been trying to learn, he pioneered with TuckerMax.com, and so when I’m not sure exactly what the next step is, I can go ask him, “What do I need to do here?”

    I’ve noticed that most people who comment on your blog entries tend to write something like “oh yeah I can totally relate, this is just like what happened to me”, before they go on to describe a similiar experience they had. I notice this happens a lot on Ryan’s blog, too. Maybe it’s a wider blog phenomenon, but it seems really concentrated on the Rudius sites. Does this kind of reaction to your writing bother you?

    Not really. I’m usually so happy that people are reading and commenting that unless someone is obviously trolling, I’m happy that they’ve taken the time to hang out at my site. It’s not like I know my readers; they have no obligation to me to keep coming back and reading what I have to say. But they do, and that’s incredibly rewarding. That they then want to share their experiences is pretty cool.

    There’s all these articles out there about narcissism, and about how blogging and Twitter and everything else is just an extension about how narcissistic we’ve gotten as a society. I’m sure there are elements of that out there, but for the most part, I think people blog and Twitter and share on flickr and goodreads and del.icio.us and messageboards because they’re looking for a connection with other people. I don’t see it as narcissism, but as us really trying to connect by saying “here’s what I’m about”, and seeing if that resonates with other people.

    Yeah, the downside is that there are a lot of people blogging about their cats, but you know what? If that person has twelve readers, I bet there’s a cool little vibe happening where they all get to just geek out about their love of cats. It’s easy to shit all over that, but most people aren’t trying to do this for a living; they just want to find other people who share their hobbies and passions.

    So if my writing connects with someone where they want to share their experiences back, I’m not sure how that could bother me.

    Since I began reading your site a couple of years ago, I found it frustrating how little you discussed the day-to-day working for Rudius Media. It’s great that you’ve recently started to write more about that side of your life.

    I tend to write about what’s going on in my life and what I find interesting at the moment. With the movie tour coming up and with the movie site about to go live, Rudius has definitely been on my mind. But it hasn’t been a conscious decision to write more about my work, or what happens day-to-day. When I sit down to write, there’s no real decision like “I have to go in this direction.” I just write about whatever happens to be on my mind at the moment.

    If you like the day-to-day Rudius stuff, there will be a lot more of it coming up. I’ll be on the movie tour, and I plan to write every day, sort of what I did with the Panama trip. So look for that.

    What are your goals with the non-fiction element of BenCorman.com? [site banner pictured below right – dude in suit isn’t Ben]

    Fake Ben Corman standing in a fake suit among a fake building wreckage.I wish I had goals for the site. A few months ago, when I was having trouble writing post-Panama, I sat down and spent a few weeks mapping out my next novel. I’ve got a notebook full out outlines and character profiles and everything else that goes into a really big project. And for a few weeks I sort of nibbled around the edges, filling in parts of the outline or writing scenes, but not doing any of the heavy lifting.

    Then I had a pretty rough weekend and wrote about it in the entry about my grandmother dying (“January 22nd, 1917 – July 3rd, 2009“), and ever since then, the words have sort of tumbled out and on to the page. So I put the novel away for a bit, and I’m just going to ride this for as long as it’s fun and it’s working for me.

    I go through these periods where writing comes really easily and I have a lot to say; that’s when I really just love doing it. But as to where it’s headed or what the plan is, it’s pretty undefined. Just: do this, and see if people respond to it.

    It’s actually a dumb plan. I should be working on the novel non-stop so that it’s ready when we’re a big bad player in Hollywood.

    What do you hope others get out of your writing on the site?

    I hope people are entertained. Growing up, I read a lot. Even now, there’s nothing I like more than just killing half a day getting lost in a really good book. I don’t think my own writing is that strong yet, where people will just get lost in it for hours, but I hope that they sort of lose themselves in what I have to say – for a few minutes, at least.

    Finally, how do you feel about being interviewed?

    It’s harder than it looks in the movies. Like anything else, there’s this pressure to be engaging, to be funny, to be honest, all while still maintaining that fiction that I’m cool enough to be interviewed.

    I really hate reading interviews with people that I respect that are boring, because it feels like they’re not trying. That’s probably selfish of me, to want more than they’re willing to give. But now, being on the other side of the table … it feels like you’ve given me the chance to say something, and you’ve opened your audience to me. I want to respect that.

    So much of this blogging shit is just a shell game: it’s creating content because the template is to update (x) times a week on Y subject, and link bait sites A, B and C. In my own writing, I’m trying to get past that. I’m trying to create the kind of stuff I’d want to read, and not just create content because I need to hit that content template.

    So I’d feel really shitty if I just mailed it in with two line answers. But it’s fun too. And I can only hope that this interview turns out to be entertaining, or that someone gets something out of this.

    Ben Corman updates the RudiusMedia.com homepage most days, and writes mostly non-fiction at BenCorman.com. He’s joined Tucker Max’s movie tour in the lead-up to its September 2009 US release, which Tucker has blogged about extensively here. Contact Ben via his site or Twitter.

  • Bob Lefsetz On Gladwell’s Goliath-Killers

    The latest Lefsetz Letter is awesome. Bob discusses music and one of my favourite authors; how could I not read it?

    I quote freely from the letter below. I’ve added a layer of links to help you out, and highlighted some particularly good bits. Enjoy.

    […] We met at the restaurant at the appointed time.  It was me, Craig, Felice, Malcolm Gladwell…and a woman Malcolm was waiting for.

    […] And when we finally sat down at the table, I got a vibe…  We were going to leave our identities at the door, this was going to be a friends evening.  There’s no way to alienate a celebrity more than delving into their work, they oftentimes become uptight and raise a barrier, which is never ever lowered.

    […] And then dinner was finished.  And I had an internal debate.  Should I ask my one big question, the one that had been haunting me for months, whether you were fucked if you switched gears and entered a new territory, after devoting 10,000 hours to one?

    I took the risk.

    The change was stunning.  Suddenly, this wiry Canadian turned into “Malcolm Gladwell”.  The gentleman you see on television, the confident storyteller.  Malcolm said you got credit, that the hours were transferable, because those who devoted this amount of time to a pursuit were self-selecting.

    BINGO!

    In other words, it’s hard, and lonely, to put in 10,000 hours.  You’ve seen the Olympic athletes on TV, they send a crew to shoot footage prior to the quadrennial games and the sportsman or woman is running down an abandoned highway in the middle of summer, shvitzing up enough sweat to fill a swimming pool.  If you want to be great, you have to not only work, but sacrifice.  You can’t spend endless hours somnambulant in front of the TV screen, you can’t go out partying every night.  You’ve got to dedicate yourself to your pursuit.  Which is what Malcolm did.

    He used to be a reporter for the “Washington Post“.  For a decade.  He told us about dictating a story, exactly how it appeared in print, upon deadline.  Coldly, calmly, Malcolm spoke into the telephone.  He didn’t say he couldn’t perform, he didn’t freak out.  Hell, he didn’t even think about the challenge.  He’d been groomed for it.  By himself, by his experience.

    Then Felice asked Malcolm about his TED speech.

    Malcolm winced.  He said he was so much better now.  He’d learned that what an audience wanted first and foremost was story.  This reminded me of Don Hewitt speaking of “60 Minutes”.  That’s what he said the success of the show was based on, storytelling.

    In other words, it’s not that hard to assemble the facts.  But how can you convey them in a way that intrigues your audience?

    Malcolm went on to tell us a story he’d been relaying to groups, about David vs. Goliath.  How David can always beat the giant, if he puts in the effort.  I asked him to globalize this concept, to the economic crisis, but Malcolm begged off and the dinner was over.  But what Malcolm stated remained with me.  Was it possible, could David truly beat Goliath?

    Goliath is the establishment.  Which has a set of rules to keep itself in power.  But if you’re willing to work really hard, you can beat the system.  But it requires a lot of effort.

    Today I got an e-mail from the “New Yorker“.  I’ve been a subscriber since the seventies.  I don’t read every line, there wouldn’t be enough time to read “Automobile” or “Ski” or “National Geographic Explorer” or “Vanity Fair”.  But I always comb the table of contents, looking for interesting nuggets.

    And sometimes, especially on planes, or in stolen moments, I start in on an article that appears unappealing but ends up riveting me, because it’s so well-written!  That’s what most magazines lack.  They’ll give you the information, but it’s delivered in a pedestrian style that doesn’t make your heart sing or cause a lump in your throat to form.  Great writing should be able to be about ANYTHING!

    So I’m perusing the “New Yorker” e-mail and the first article listed is “Malcolm Gladwell on how David Beats Goliath“. […] The piece begins with the tale of how an unknowledgeable coach of a girl’s basketball team brought his unskilled charges to the national championship, by challenging the accepted notions of how to play the game.  Rather than start with skills, the coach focused on the full-court press, conditioning was more important to this cause than years of training the girls missed and could not replace.

    Like Napster.  All night coding sessions by college students brought down an entire industry.  The labels had a formula, all boiling down to the overpriced CD.  But if someone did what was seen as socially unpopular, making the music free, and put in the effort to write the program that achieved this, the labels, the Goliath in this story, were fucked.

    That’s what happened.  Those seen as powerless, not given an iota’s worth of attention, decimated the major labels.  Hell, it’s happening in all kinds of industries now.  Teams of online denizens search for gotcha moments and expose the frailties of companies.  Goliaths, like Domino’s Pizza, are caught flat-footed, they’re beaten by those they never even took seriously.

    So you can beat the major labels, you can beat most of the infrastructure in the music industry today, because these people just aren’t working that hard.  They’ve got families, they go on vacation, they like to play golf.  Whereas you’ve got nothing but time and a computer, you can work 24/7 to break your band.  And you’ve got the tools to do it!  Pro Tools.  Exhibition and distribution online.  Today’s acts can give away their music, it’s their choice.  The labels HATE them for this, the old acts HATE them for this!  John Mellencamp wants a return to the old days.  But the old days are gone.

    But at least Mellencamp put in the effort, that’s why he’s so good.

    Are you that good?

    Probably not.

    Anyone can have a MySpace page, Facebook too.  They can tweet about their gigs, can add people to mailing lists that they never asked to be put on.  But none of this covers up the music.  Have you put in enough effort such that your music is truly great?

    Lindsay Lohan didn’t.  Nor did Hilary Duff.  Britney’s a performer.  The Spice Girls are a joke.  Dr. Dre put in the hours, but so many acts working with these beat specialists have a desire to be rich and famous, but that’s about it.  Desire to make it is important, but it must be accompanied with effort, with ACHIEVEMENT!

    The Goliaths believe in top-down marketing.  It’s easy to beat them, it’s very simple.  You’ve got to start at the bottom and have patience.  They’ve got no patience, they need profits NOW!  The Goliaths believe their money will triumph, that if you build it, they can buy it.  But the Net is rife with stories of acts that have been abused by their labels.  And what can a label provide other than little listened-to radio and TV play that doesn’t move the needle.  You don’t want that, it doesn’t satiate your audience!

    You’ve got to get really good and convince fans one by one.  Not by dunning them, but by attracting them, by being so damn great.

    I didn’t read the “Tipping Point” because Malcolm called me, or because someone sent it to me, I felt the buzz.  Which is hard to manufacture.  Or, if you do manufacture it, it doesn’t last.  Now I’m a fan.  I thought “Blink” was a step down from “Tipping Point”, but “Outliers” is a complete return to form, the same way the band’s third album convinces you, the first was not a fluke, they truly are good!

    But how many bands get to a third album today?

    And, let’s not forget, Gladwell had a decade at the “Washington Post“, when his national profile was almost nil.

    He paid his dues.  He invented his own genre.  Now he’s reaping the rewards.

    Don’t complain about the system, don’t bitch that you can’t make it.  That just indicates to me that you haven’t put in enough time.  Because if you’re truly good, people will find you.  Genius is learned, you’re not born with it.  If you write a song every day and perform every night for fifteen years, you will no longer suck.  Then again, there are issues of timing.  THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES!

    Can you stay the course when times are tough?  Can you live in an apartment as opposed to a house, can you drive an old car?  Can you avoid applying to graduate school? Can you not get fucked up at night so you can work clear-headed tomorrow?  Can you not have children so you can focus on your work?

    In other words, can you work hard and SACRIFICE?

    The legends did.  I don’t see why you should get a pass.

    Actually, it doesn’t matter what I think, the public at large will decide your fate.

    The public decided radio sucked.  Decided CDs were overpriced too.

    How have the industries reacted?  Radio still has twenty two minutes of commercials an hour and the playlists are boring.  Online albums cost about as much as physical ones, even though the sound is second-rate and there are no production or shipping costs.  Do you think the public doesn’t know this?  At least Amazon was smart enough to sell Kindle books below wholesale…otherwise it doesn’t make sense!

    I’m a Gladwell fan.  He’s earned my trust.  I’d rather read his work than listen to the musings of your son/best friend/lover/college buddy who’s enlisted you in his effort to break through musically.  Great stuff always breaks through.  But right now, those willing to sacrifice, to work really hard, tend to be in the tech sphere.  We’re not getting the best and the brightest in music.  Because the Goliaths have stacked the deck in their favor.

    But this won’t last.  Enough Davids are building new acts and new systems below the old guard’s radar.  They’re going to triumph.  Just watch.

    Thanks, Bob.