Context From Carl: I wrote this at the end of 2001. I was serious. 5 months later, I started working on “How To Sell…”
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Well, this is the letter I wondered if I would ever have the wisdom and courage to write. Time for me to be dramatic. I have had a series of major epiphanies over the past month. For the sake of offering an explanation, I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that I share them with you while I still have your attention. As Ruta Sepetys once said to me, let me set all [the bullshit] aside and cut to the chase.
For the past four years I have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of tens of thousands of dollars (of my own money and other people’s – one person actually went bankrupt) on a business that in reality, could never succeed. That business was Ed Furniture, and it was a record label. I was operating it under several false premises, which I will now dispell:
1.) The so-called music industry is NOT about music. To make a very accurate generalization, it is about visual stimulation (dancing, images, clothing) created for the purpose of distracting people from their miserable lives (in the form of providing a soundtrack for the selling and consuming of alcohol [and God knows what else] and providing a place for a bunch of losers to stand around.) It is populated by people who want to refuse to take responsibility for their own lives and become adults. It’s a business that capitalizes on the naivety of young people, and the illusion that it’s not necessary to work for a living. I say that with the knowledge that the industry is VERY hard work. That’s why I used the word ‘illusion’.
2.) There are not enough people that enjoy the challenge of listening to complex music (on the level that I intend to create it) to turn it into a profitable business. No one has ever succeeded, and that includes Frank Zappa. Speaking of Frank Zappa, anyone who compares my music to Frank Zappa’s may as well walk up and say, “I’m ignorant about music theory and music history and only see what the media puts in front of me. I am not worth your time.” The only similarity is that my music is hard to play. When I write my best stuff I don’t take into account the limitations of the human beings who happen to be around me. If you think Zappa was demanding, just wait and see what I am going to do next. It might even seem like I’m just sitting here and stroking myself with megalomaniacal praise, but my next batch of music will dispell all of that. The musicians who have had a glimpse of the skill it takes to play the kind of music I can write know for a fact that it’s easier to go and join a Bacardi Tour or The Charlie Daniels Band and rake in the cash. For that I commend them. They’re smart enough to know that getting involved with learning my hellish rhythms would be financially devastating. I’ve been encored and praised for playing horribly on purpose, and thrown off stage for doing something I considered brilliant. Not enough people can tell the difference to justify quitting my day job any time soon. The last two really cool things I recorded and played for Flail Tenacious resulted in the following comments: “But it just sounds weird” and “Not very exciting from a listener standpoint.” I rest my case. People think you’re a genius if you throw in an unexpected start & stop, a borrowed triplet, or play in 7/4 once and a while (Victims Family, Rush), but if you’re the kind of guy that wants to come up with a bi-tonal riff that spends it’s day in the rhythmic climate of 13/4 with syncopated borrowed quadruplets and triplets you’re not cool anymore. There is an epistemological line in the human mind between noise and music. To me, that’s where half the excitement is: hiding it on the other side of that line and telling your mind, “go find the music.”
3.) The real work that goes on behind the scenes in the “music industry” is not glamorous, especially in the early years. The majority of it is travelling, either by automobile or by plane. I hate both. I like to be home. There’s also a lot of standing around with losers. As I said before, those are the people who populate the industry. In a punk rock club, it’s difficult to get a conversation going about Jim Collins’ Three Circles of the Hedgehog Concept. Brian Tracy? Who the hell is he? Jack Welch? Huh? There’s also a lot of carrying things. Heavy things. A lot of wrapping dirty, crud-caked cables around your forearm, too. Sleep and food are not tolerated. I don’t see how standing on a stage for 45 minutes entertaining morons justifies all of that. Maybe other people do, but I honestly don’t.
4.) For years I have been held back by the false premise that I need to play live. It’s a bizarre guilt that has eaten away at me, which has made me forget one simple fact: correctly executing my music live is just not going to happen. Any attempt is a compromise between trying to blow minds with fantastic music and having to rely on people who would rather be off smoking pot. Guess which one wins? This is an issue anywhere you go, in any business, in any job. Please bear with me while I generalize and say that musicians (and workers in any job, for that matter) usually fall into one of four categories:
a.) Those with no talent or virtues. As John Wolf says, those are a no-brainer.
b.) Those with talent and no virtues. These are unbelievably creative and talented types who can’t tie their shoes or remember to put their pants on before they leave the house. They don’t show up for practice. They can’t tune their instrument or keep it in working condition. They think music theory is a waste of time and too analytical. They’re either not motivated or motivated towards the wrong things. They often have the misconception that they shouldn’t have to work a dayjob. This type is “waiting to be discovered.” They often put up a very strong resistance towards reality. They think that God blessed them with a talent that most people don’t have, and that affords them the right to slack off on basic daily responsibilities. Their personal lives are usually a huge mess and they end up living with their parents until they’re 40. Their immaturity can be a serious liability. The majority of people I have dealt with fall into this group (including me). I can’t bother with these people; all my energy will go towards managing them.
c.) Those with virtues and no talent. These are the reliable people who will bust their ass and put forth the effort but still can’t do the job to the degree that I want. They might be able to learn it, but that could take ten years, and do I really have ten years to wait? I need to look at the here and now. It’s possible that they’re just on the wrong seat on the bus, but it doesn’t mean you need to kick ’em off the bus. The puzzling thing is that you can count on them to do anything short of pick up an instrument and play the parts. They’re usually very financially secure and in a stable, long-term realtionship. These people are more rare and more valuable than the previous.
d.) Those who have both virtues and talent. Those are the ones who already have their shit together and are making $100,000 a year playing lame drum beats for Carlos Santana. It goes without saying that I don’t have that kind of money to spend on musicians. And if I did, I’d never make the money back, much less make a profit on that kind of racket. And until I find a way to make that happen, I am not dealing with putting a band together.
5.) There doesn’t have to be a financial excuse for writing my music. While it would be seriously bitchin to make a million bucks off playing hyper, cockeyed music, it doesn’t really matter to me one way or another. Sour grapes. I don’t need to “find some way to market it.” Maybe some day I will, but right now I’m not and that’s reality. In other words, I don’t have to apologize for my vision of music and find some way to make money off it. Igor Stravinsky wrote adventurous, challenging music, but sold it to ballets as background music. Danny Elfman is background music for cartoons. I can’t think of a more insulting idea than having music be just the background noise. Try to find an example, throughout history. You’ll find that most any revenue derived from writing and performing music wouldn’t have happened had the creator not taken part in a re-packaging process for easier consumption, allowing him the opportunity to make enough money to buy a sandwich. Music is too important to me. It’s magic. It’s my religion. Christopher Schlegel recently reminded me that my original goal in writing music is because I want to listen to it. For myself. I’ve found that other people who hear it offer me just about nothing but an obstacle to that goal — if I let them. Getting sidetracked on pissing people off it just as bad if not worse than getting sidetracked on pleasing them. And if they aren’t pleased with what they hear, they’re not going to pay you. The cool thing is that I can afford to sit here and doodle and experiment all day and I don’t have to get paid for it. I have all the tools right in front of me. Don’t need a record contract. Don’t need a band. Don’t need to tour. Don’t even need to press CD’s. If music can’t exist on its own without “some bullshit superimposed on top of it,” (thanks, Trey), then I have no business being in business. Or I should say, I have no business. And that solves itself. I have a hunch that I will find a way at some point in the future to turn a profit by having something to do with music. Until then, go jump in a lake.
-Sir Millard Mulch