Hey Unemployed Media Professionals! Read This Post Before You Apply For An Online Media Job!

I’m a journalist by training and communications professional by trade. It’s a sucky time to be doing either of those things right now. A lot of mid-career professionals are getting laid off from traditional media outlets on a daily basis and looking to online media for a new start, and that’s awesome.

However, there’s something I’ve gotta say. There’s a lot of misconception about what jobs are available in online media, and I just want to tell by un-and-underemployed brothers and sisters in communications the real deal. The future of your online media career will not lie in starting a MySpace page.

1.) Don’t Expect Your Blog To Be Your Next Full-Time Job

Blogging doesn’t pay. No, not even the Huffington Post. No, really, they don’t. And if you expect to be the next Heather Armstrong or Markos Moulitsas or the Go Fug Yourself girls, let that dream go, too. They are the exception to the rule, and for the most part the ship instant online stardom has sailed. And if you don’t know who any of those people are, you have a bigger problem if you want to make blogging your career. Blog because you love to write, blog because you have expertise in a particular field or a hobby that you want to share, or even to market yourself as a brand, Julia Allison style and generate clips. But please don’t set up a blog on Blogger or whatever to make money. You simply won’t.

If you do want to make a living (or beer money) from blogging, then you may want to check out problogger.net for information on how to start a blog that may (I said may!) get accepted by an ad network or score you a gig as a (paid) guest blogger/writer, or to find one of those elusive, holy grail FT jobs at a place like Gawker Media, or a Gawker Media-esque start-up. And if you do get one of those elusive jobs, please don’t roll up with a lot of talk about your awesome j-school degree and your storied career in print journalism, as no one will care. It sucks, but it’s true. Continue reading

Book Review: Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want

While applying marketing techniques in concert with authenticity isn’t something I will be using to help make my non-existent business reach a new level of confidence and power, there’s plenty of interesting stuff in James Gilmore & Joseph Pine’s Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. Much of the interesting information came in the form of theory and charts. Lots of charts.

However, one aspect of this book that can be applied to understanding of fan culture, what the authors deem the five types of authenticity (the fifth is natural authenticity):

Original authenticity: People tend to perceive as authentic that which possesses originality in design, being the first of its kind, never before seen by human eyes; not a copy or imitation. Items on this polarity range from imitation to original.

Exceptional authenticity: People tend to perceive as authentic that which is done exceptionally well, executed individually and extraordinarily by someone demonstrating human care; not unfeelingly or disingenuously performed. Items on this polarity range from disingenuous to genuine.

Referential authenticity: People tend to perceive as authentic that which refers to some other context, drawing inspiration from human history, and tapping into our shared memories and longings; not derivative or trivial. Items on this polarity range from fake to real.

Influential authenticity: People tend to perceive as authentic that which exerts influence on other entities, calling human beings to a higher goal and providing a foretaste of a better way; not inconsequential or without meaning. Items on this polarity range from insincere to sincere.

Fandom and fan culture often works within these four types of authenticity, but often with the additional factor of changes over time. Oh, and did I mention that there wasn’t discussion of basics of communication theory (how speech is perceived varies based on both the speaker and the listener) and how that would influence perceptions of authenticity.

So let’s run through several examples of shifting views of authenticity of music performers using Gilmore & Pine’s framework:

First, an example of being “authentic” using the work of another: Madonna’s guitar solo cover of a Pantera song in concert. Madonna fans, used to her usage of cultural and musical elements from a variety of sources, accept this musical addition. They view her actions as a positive type of referential and influential authenticity. However, Pantera fans view Madonna as an insincere, disingenuous, and fake imitator; strumming a few bars doesn’t make one authentic; however living the hardcore lifestyle does. (Bonus round: Does Madonna playing Pantera break copyright law? Not if she paid for it, under mandatory licensing — and Phil Anselmo can’t (legally) stop her, either.)

Second, an example of trying to be “authentic” to two/three personas simultaneously: Mylie Cyrus/ Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana is a Disney television show/ concert series for tweens based around Mylie Stewart who attempts to hide her superstar alterego persona, Hannah Montana, from being discovered, thereby somehow achieving the “best of both worlds,” having a normal life and a superstar life simultaneously. An additional complication is that Miley/Hannah is played by Miley Cyrus, who performs as both herself and her alter-ego. And MileyHannah’s father is played by Miley’s real father.

The multiple layers of what is real and not, what is authentic and not have caused problems for Miley Cyrus, who has been criticized for behaving like an actual teenager (rather than a Disneyfied teen) and for participating in a bedhead Vanity Fair Leibowitz photo shoot. But to additionally think about HannahMiley/Miley like Foucault, what is the possibility of truth or authenticity when the identity is purposely mutable? In one memorable episode, My Boyfriend’s Jackson and There’s Gonna Be Trouble, Hannah (the character) pretends to date Jackson (the character’s brother), and over the course of the episode, Miley’s real/fake father comments about how strange it is to have his kids dating each other, yet compels them to continue to fake date. The “couple” is chased by paparazzi and interviewed about their romance on Oprah-lite, complete with couch-jumping declarations of love.

Real life disproves what the show is intending to accomplish — Miley the person does not have the ability to have a “real” life and a superstar life separately. But to fans, questions about who is the “original”, genuineness, derivativeness, and even authenticity are completely irrelevant! Even though there is no obvious authenticity because there is no good way to distinguish between what is intended to be authentic and what is intended to be an act, the consumers of Miley”Miley”Hannah will still consume and love their idol.

Third, an example of being “authentic” through an external filter: Rush playing their own song, Tom Sawyer, backstage on the Colbert Report on the videogame, Rock Band, scoring an accuracy rating of 31%. Assuming one was looking for authenticity at being Rush, the band presently calling itself Rush would fit all four types of authenticity. But what about Rock Band? It does serve as referential authenticity, asking players to be Rush, and falls somewhat in the middle range for exceptional authenticity — after all, the point of Rock Star is to experience an accurate rock star experience — at least as much as you can in your living room. But where Rock Star fails is in effectively repeating and “calling up” the authentic, if those that embody the experience of playing Tom Sawyer “the right way” can’t reproduce it effectively.

As a last minute treat, as thought experiment, the authors define recent bands as combinations of previous bands.

Led Zeppelin + Iggy Pop = Red Hot Chili Peppers
Jimi Hendrix + Tom Jones = Prince
The Doors + Paul McCarthy = Nirvana

As much as you may disagree with these, this one is …

The Clash + Bootsy Collins = Kid Rock

Just no. That is not authentic music math on any level.

This book is found in many libraries and if you want to buy it, the ISBNs are 9781591391456 1591391458

Banking on the 1,000

One of my favorite metal bands, The Dillinger Escape Plan, recently left their record label, Relapse, after their contract expired. According to the following interview with lead singer Greg Puciato, the band has tentative plans to go independent with their next full-length release, inspired by the Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails model:

It seems so unnecessary now to sign a contract that’s based on an industry model that doesn’t exist anymore. Relapse did everything they could for us and everything is cool with them, but after being on the same label for ten years it feels unbelievable to know that we could literally self-fund a CD and just put it out the way Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead did. We can do whatever we want, y’know? The fact that we managed to not get big, but big enough, means that we have enough of a cult following that people might buy just as many records from us as they would from a store. There’s no point of having a record label behind you unless you have a chance of becoming a Walmart band like Nickelback or some huge entity. We don’t really foresee that in our future. I think we’re starting to get to the point where we view bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead as our peers, and even bands like Aphex Twin. Those are forward-thinking bands. We see ourselves regardless of any genre of music, and we don’t see ourselves aligned just with heavy bands. Like I said before, we have a cult following and we’re not little but we’re not big. I’m happy with where we are, and if we can just maintain the same quality control over our stuff as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead do, I’ll be happy.

Why is this news, you ask? Because I think if they do go this route, their success would bea perfect example of Wired founder/important dude Kevin Kelly’s theory of “1000 True Fans.”

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

Clearly far from a household name, the band has, nonetheless, developed an extremely passionate and loyal fanbase, due in part to their ridiculous chaotic energetic live performances, as best exemplified here:

IMO, a household name artist with a past track record of mainstream success would never be an ideal test for this theory, but DEP is. They’ve been demonstrating it for awhile now. Take for example their recent promotion, where the band has sold limited edition t-shirts inspired by the titles of songs from their latest album. Sold only from the band’s MySpace page, the t-shirts have been repeatedly selling out. No middle man, no label, just selling directly to their passionate fans, and said fanbase (myself included) is lapping it up.

And for bands with niche audiences like DEP, maybe this model is more appropriate. Their brand of discordant, multi-tempo, aggressive metal doesn’t really have much chance of hitting it big on mainstream radio, and the record industry, still focused on hit-making. would brand these guys failures, despite a loyal fanbase that would continue to support the band, album after album and for every tour.

The real test of this model, at least when it comes to the music industry, is touring and promotion. 1000 True Fans don’t mean squat to a venue owner of a 2,000 seat theater who plans to book you for a night. That’s where casual fans do make a difference.

Having the PR muscle of a label (even a smaller label, like Relapse) behind you is crucial when you’re out on the road, and DIY promotion can only do so much, when you’re trying to get the word out in the areas where your True (and casual) fans can best be reached. Of course, this is where social media – MySpace, Facebook, etc. is a boon, but can it match what a label can do?

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly waiting to purchase DEP’s next limited edition shirt from their MySpace page.

Fans Vs. Freaks: Media Coverage of Fandom

It’s always amusing (and mildly annoying) when mainstream media outlets cover fandom and pop culture. The underlying smugness of their commentary often seems to rear its head, even when it’s hardly warranted.

Take for example, Yahoo Buzz Log’s recent coverage of the Warner Bros. decision to push the release date of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince to Summer 2009.

Upon hearing that Warner Bros. would delay the release of the sixth film from November to June, fans turned to the Web to voice their displeasure in ALL CAPS. Warner Bros., eager to keep the herd of angry nerds from storming its gates, quickly responded.

While this is not too far removed from reality (apparently many fans did flood the Warner Bros. offices with angry e-mails), much media coverage of non-sports fandom (and I’m talking blogs as well as mainstream media) still falls into the usual stereotype of the obsessive anti-social nerd, dressed in a costume and taking their fixation WAY too seriously, or the child/adolescent who hasn’t yet discovered “grown-up” pasttimes.

This, despite the fact that Harry Potter arguably is one of the more mainstream worldwide pop culture phenomena – J.K. Rowling certainly didn’t become the wealthiest woman in the U.K. solely because of the support of nerds and children.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts and Henry Jenkins has certainly posited numerous times, pop culture fandom (particularly fandom that revolves around science fiction and/or fantasy) is still popularly covered by media outlets as the subversive activity of a maladjusted minority, despite the fact that fan culture more mainstream than ever, perhaps one of the few common global languages we share.

It’s also a driving force in the international economy; the Harry Potter franchise create significant economic impact, that’s part of the reason why the Half-Blood Prince delay made news in the first place. Some reporters recognize this, check out the L.A. Times coverage of the story – and the fans:

To some degree, that success motivated Warner to shift “Half-Blood Prince,” Horn said. The film will now hit theaters the same midsummer weekend that “Dark Knight” was released this year. Horn said the young, core Potter audience would be out of school and give the film a longer theatrical life. It will now open opposite Universal’s special-effects comedy “Land of the Lost,” which stars Will Ferrell. But Horn said there was nothing next year compared to this summer’s especially dense slate of big-budget releases.

The shift in schedule is already roiling Potter fans, who are among the most intense devotees in contemporary pop culture. Petitions were circulating, rumors were flying and angry screeds were being posted on Internet sites within minutes of the Thursday announcement … Horn acknowledged that the studio would have to pacify fans in the months to come.

So we are certainly seeing the lines blur between fan culture, mass culture and mass media, and certainly more journalists are seeing the value of covering fan culture as a legitimate beat with an economic/cultural relevance rather than a freakish curiosity (though entertainment journalists have been doing that for ages.) but the stereotypes still remain.

Gaming as a statement of political belief? Are Dungeons & Dragons players really pro-Obama?

A McCain campaign staffer states on the candidate’s official website:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement…

Gaming as a political statement? While I am not a gamer of any stripe, I know many people who are either past or present gamers (though not always of D & D) across the political spectrum — from liberal to moderate to conservative to libertarian. Perhaps I just know people who don’t fall into this new-to-me stereotype of gamer=liberal, but this stereotype exists in parallel to larger equally inaccurate negative stereotypes of liberals, specifically Obama supporters, as “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies.”

As I’ve previously written, the exclusion of some people from inclusion in their fandom based on race/ethnicity or gender is problematic, and the use of “true fandom” language is often used to exclude.

This gaming stereotype is no less boundary-drawing — stating that unless you want to be considered to be a non-patriotic sissy loser without a job like those Obama gamers, you should be McCain-ing it up. This political statement draws limits on what is and is not acceptable masculinity; in other words, real men don’t game — or rely on women. (And what about women? Their interest in gaming — or potentially voting isn’t worthy of comment or insult).

There have been some interesting fan-based responses, including Wired‘s McCain inspired D&D creature contest and pro-Obama D & D shirts.

DJ Culture as Illegal: The New York Times and Girl Talk

The New York Times has a very odd article about Girl Talk and copyright, originally subtitled “DJ flouts copyright law”, now “DJ skirts copyright law” — two very different legal positions! The article tries so very very hard to be balanced between copyright ownership and OMG-ing about Girl Talk that any larger point quickly devolves.

The D.J. Girl Talk has won positive reviews for his new album and news media attention for its Radiohead-style pay-what-you-want pricing…. Not bad for an artist whose music may be illegal.

Girl Talk, whose real name is Gregg Gillis, makes danceable musical collages out of short clips from other people’s songs; there are more than 300 samples on “Feed the Animals,” the album he released online at illegalart.net in June. He doesn’t get the permission of the composers to use these samples, as United States copyright law mostly requires, because he maintains that the brief snippets he works with are covered by copyright law’s “fair use” principle (and perhaps because doing so would be prohibitively expensive).

And here is the law, ya’ll, NYT style, with the most egregious omissions edited in brackets:

But this embrace [of pop] may be an illicit one, according to music industry executives. In legal terms a musician who uses parts of other compositions creates what copyright law calls a derivative work [How much use of another work would make the new work derivative isn’t clear; Patry on Copyright:”Without incorporation of a substantial amount of protectible material from a copyrighted work, a subsequent work cannot be considered a derivative work”], so the permission of the original song’s writer or current copyright holder is needed [, assuming the original composition is not in the public domain]. Artists who sample a recording also need permission from the owner [of copyright of the specific recording being sampled], in most cases the record label. Hip-hop artists who don’t get that permission have been sued, often successfully. [But the record industry also uses remixes/samples as greymarket goods, as part of officially sanctioned mixtapes.]

Mr. Gillis says his samples fall under fair use, which provides an exemption to copyright law under certain circumstances. Fair use allows book reviewers to quote from novels or online music reviewers to use short clips of songs. Because his samples are short, and his music sounds so little like the songs he takes from that it is unlikely to affect their sales, Mr. Gillis contends he should be covered under fair use.

Here there was a lost opportunity to discuss the different ways copyright works in addressing the two aspects of DJing — the live spinning/mixing versus recordings (either of live music or studio productions). Arguably, if a venue has licenses to play music from ASCAP/BMI to play entire songs, then they also have the license to play live samples and created-live remixes of those same songs. Therefore, non-recorded DJing likely has more wiggle room.

Moving beyond the law, perhaps it is too much to ask of the New York Times to talk at length about the history and substance of DJ culture, but no mention of it? Or of the racial dynamics? I cannot believe that the only artists mentioned who sample/remix/mashup within the article are: 2 Many DJs [AKA Soulwax], Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy. The article gives the impression that U.S. DJ culture has been dead for decades (yes, Paul’s Boutique came out nineteen years ago), and we were just waiting with bated breath for Girl Talk to bring it on home. Yeah, right.

Paul Miller (AKA DJ Spooky) would have been an excellent person to interview for this article, considering that he is the unofficial spokesperson for remix culture — at least according to Wisconsin Public Radio. His latest edited book, Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture, which I will hopefully have a review on this blog, has lots of interesting discussions of the value of using slivers of music from others, from artists ranging from Saul Williams to Cory Doctorow. (Full disclosure: I interviewed DJ Spooky for an article in Clamor magazine.) The article doesn’t even quote from anything written about sampling and the law — say Chapter 4, “Hep Cats and Copy Cats”, in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Copyrights and Copywrongs.

Showing the difference in DJ artistry between live and recorded music — and the difference in hype created around different artists, I saw Girl Talk in Chicago at Lollapolooza and was completely unimpressed. This despite his recorded music being is quite good; I especially like the remixes of Radiohead. I left to hear Flosstradamus, who are consistently great, yet have not received half of Girl Talk’s hype.

Oddly enough, several days after the Girl Talk article, Jeffrey Lewis’ Rip-Off Artist personal essay appeared in the New York Times:

All aspects of creativity are basically reconstituted bits and pieces of things we’ve seen, heard and experienced, finely or not-so-finely chopped and served in a form that hopefully blends the ingredients into something “new.” The ancient Greeks seemed to know this, expressed in their belief that the Muses of creativity were the daughters of Mnemosyne, Titan goddess of memory. Perhaps we would like to think that the thoughts that go into creating a new song are purely impressions from “real life,” but a melody does not suggest itself as much from the impression of the 6 train ride you took this morning as it does from a melody from another song. The same for chord progressions, song concepts, lyric sounds and patterns, song structures and everything else. Folk music is supposed to be a shared continuum after all, and as Louie Armstrong said, “All music is folk music, I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.”

Despite knowing all this, as a supposedly “creative” artist I am often shocked to discover that a song I’ve written has been a blatant unconscious rip-off of somebody else’s song, either in its structure, or lyrics, etc; if I’m lucky the other person’s song is not particularly popular or recognizable! …

Thus so many of us snobby “real” artists are just cover artists in disguise, taking various devious steps to confuse our listeners into praising our “songwriting.” Perhaps what I do should be called “song-composting,” “song-mulching,” “song-smoothie-ing,” something like that. Or you could just call it “ripping off” and take me to court. I’d probably lose.

Assuming that Lewis is correct — that all musical artists reuse the works of others, how should copyright continue to play a role in using samples? At what point should ownership outweigh new creativity? These are the types of questions the Girl Talk article should have raised!

True Love Waits?: What happens when OMG OTP Vampire sparkly meets abstinence WSJ editorial

Please, for the love of all fandoms, know of what you write, oh editorial writers who wish to use fannish examples to make your non-fandom points. Is the relationship between a centuries-old undead bloodthirsty killer and a virgin girl who wants to join him in sparkle really an ideal abstinence relationship?

Today’s lesson comes to you from the Wall Street Journal editorial page where Donna Frietas uses Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga as an example of literature that promotes abstinence until marriage.

[Meyer] knows that romantic tension is often better built with anticipation than action. That there is enough excitement in gazes, conversation, proximity and maybe a few stolen kisses to keep young lovers busy for years — if they allow themselves to indulge in this slow kind of seduction.

Ms. Meyer’s fans agree. This vampire love story has captured more than their hearts — it has them demanding that young men behave like gentlemen. And it also has them waxing poetic about what sounds a lot like abstinence.

For those of you who have not completed the series or don’t care about sparkle/intense vampire love, the quick plot summary is: having the main characters be abstinent through the first three books does not prevent the main characters from making lots of other choices you would prefer your children not make (should the opportunity present itself).

Parents: If having your children be abstinent is a goal, no vampire-based work will help you achieve that. Think: Vampires have non-consensual interactions with others because of their (blood)lust! If I was now a teenager, the actual life lessons I would have learned from the Twilight series is to never have children … and not read anything else by Stephenie Meyer.

Let’s just say that the final paragraphs of the editorial hardly touch the bizarre issues in the last book Ms. Meyer has decided to place upon her young impressionable mostlikely future sexually active readers.

As clergy and parents and even a few teachers struggle to make a case for abstinence among the young, it may seem strange and unexpected that Ms. Meyer has served up one of the most compelling and effective arguments for abstinence in mainstream American culture — through a teen vampire romance. It may also be that she is trying to stay true to her faith’s teachings on sex even within her fiction. Regardless, Ms. Meyer has somehow made not having sex seem like the sexiest decision two people can make and has conveyed this effectively to her teenage audience.

Some of her young fans are hoping for a sex scene in “Breaking Dawn,” however. As one girl told me: “I’m looking forward to Bella and Edward getting married so they can have sex.” What a novel idea.

While I previously would have recommended these books for tweens and teens, especially those of the emo persuasion, this book’s extreme switch now puts the whole series into the realm of I don’t want to go there, just read it if you must.