Gazelle.com

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I loved my iPhone 3G.  Sleek, black, spiffy apps, over 1,000 songs at the ready.  But I went out and bought an iPhone 4… which I love.  The old 3G?  Not so much.  But I have enough fond remembrances that I can’t just toss it in the timagerash, and while there are recyclers out there, those take more effort than I want to spend.  eBay?  Meh.
Hey, how about using it as a paperweight as a remembrance of all those good times we had together?   No.  If anything, I’d risk condemnation by advertising the wasteful consumption of Western life.   I’m sensitive to such things. 
So, what to do with it?
Welcome to the adult version of the Island of Misfit Toys, aka the junk drawer. 
Over the past several months, 3G had managed to avoid the snares of ghouls and demons that haunt the dark recesses of the drawer, that place where bad things happen to formerly good things.  As such, 3G was abandoned in its crypt, but not quite forgotten, due to infrequent openings of the tomb.
During a lunchtime discussion, a coworker mentioned www.gazelle.com as a means to sell “that which deserved better.”  So, I went to the site, very quickly found my iPhone and version, selected “good” condition, and received a quote for $78.00.  Yep, $78 just sitting in my junk drawer.  I could debate that 3G was actually in excellent condition, because, you know, I loved it and I take care of the things you love.  But $78?
Sign me up.
But wait! There’s more.
Gazelle offered to ship, for free, a box in which to package my phone, which was itself pre-labeled to ship, you guessed it, free back to them. 
It took about a week for the free box to arrive, and of course I cleared all the memory and restored 3G to the factory bare bones setting just in case I was falling into the hands of professional identity thieves.  Add a little plastic wrap, and off it went.  Bye, buddy.
E-mail communication followed, acknowledging receipt, followed by another indicating QC was taking a look at it to make sure that it worked.  Of course it did.  But I couldn’t help but wonder about the honesty of the receiving party, as I’m not quite in the habit of sending something valuable away in the mail for the promise of money later. 
More good news in that department.  To my surprise, I received another email indicating “that the market values on which we base our offers have gone up, and you qualify for the Offer Protection on the iPhone 3G.”  Translated, I got an extra $15 bucks.  Plus, I opted for an extra 5% bonus by taking an Amazon.com credit rather than cash.  Total: $98.
Suddenly, I wish that I had an abundance of electronics to send off for cash, but, alas, my junk drawer is aptly named.  There may be more profitable ways to sell an old phone, but I’m sold on Gazelle*.  Maybe you will be too.
*This is not a paid endorsement, though I did, happily, get paid.

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Sherlock Holmes – Masterpiece Mystery

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I usually don’t watch TV on Sunday other than football, but after watching the Amazing Race I glanced at the schedule to see what else was on.  Seeing “Masterpiece Mystery,” I explored further hoping it would be a rerun of a Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episode.

Close, but no cigar, or opium to be more in keeping with the character.  Instead, I found a new interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, one addicted to nicotine patches in present day London.  This is the first of three episodes to be aired on PBS, and the 90 minute pilot can be viewed at PBS for a limited time.

All the familiar characters are quickly installed, including Inspector Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and Mycroft Holmes.  They’re important, and excellent adaptations to the 21st century.  But the story is not about them.

Dr. Watson, much like last year’s portrayal in the recent Robert Downey, Jr. Holmes theatrical release, is spared the buffoonery of Nigel Bruce’s portrayal back in the Basil Rathbone days.  His character, portrayed by Martin Freeman, is established quickly as an ex-Afghanistan physician, with resulting physical disabilities and post traumatic stress syndrome.  These may seem to insert unwanted difficulties into the role of a capable sidekick, but they’re quickly worked into the development of the plot.  The result is a character with depth, enough so that he deserves the audience’s attention as much as the titular character, no small feat.

But this is about Sherlock Holmes, after all.  The introduction is quick, quirky, and convincing.  I had doubts based on the actor’s relative youth in a role habitually played by more seasoned actors, but it’s obvious that Benedict Cumberbatch, who  portrays Holmes, benefits from both research and great writing.  The genius is apparent, and the writers do an excellent job of adapting deductions of the observable to modern times.  Likewise, Holmes can be eccentric and uncivil, but it’s fairly easy to have a fondness for the humor of this version of the master detective. 

The pilot is “A Study in Pink,” adapted from “A Study in Scarlet.”  Much like Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings, it’s not so simple to guess a solution, as critical facts are not actually provided until the end.  But the story has a linear focus that maintains interest, concluding with a surprisingly engaging nemesis.

More!

5 of 5 STARS

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Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart

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In Black Mountain’s precious release, In the Future, I found a band that could find a groove, usually a heavy one, and take it enjoyably wherever it led.  Whether by label advice or their own intent, their new CD, Wilderness Heart, backs off on the jams and moves towards more concise songs, though maintaining much of their fuzzed bass, psychedelic sounds. 

Vocalists Stephen McBean and Amber Webber continue to provide an intriguing duet approach to the songs, setting them apart from from the masses that would focus on harmonies.  Still, a harmony would be nice, once in a while.

But there’s more to say than just the songs are shorter. Included are several acoustic guitar based songs, which work well enough in broadening the band’s range.  While they don’t have the shimmering keyboards or bass fuzz, the vocals are sufficient to keep with the hippie-ness of the songs.  But I didn’t buy this album to hear a broadened range, and their acoustic songs lack the intimacy of a “Tangerine” or “Gallows Pole” ala Zep III.  I had hoped to hear more of their instrumental work – more emotional, more cutting, more practiced, more pounding.  But that’s just me, hoping for a band to take what they did well and improve on it.

The other aspect which doesn’t work as well is the lyrics.  When songs go 7 minutes with lengthy instrumental breaks, I really don’t care what they may actually be singing about if the music is really good.  Here, without the extended grooves, I have to pay attention, and they lack substance – and often sense.  They likely appeal to pubescent teens who find meaning in the imagery of fantasy writers – chemical planes, maidens, flickering lights, wolves, fortresses, bloody visions, storms… Nevertheless, those are the “riches” that make some sort of sense within the confines of thundering Black Sabbath laden power chords and anthemic delivery.

And I guess it’s the delivery I’m missing.  Everything here sounds like it’s a starting point for they way they really want to play it in concert.  Cut the trash (“Radiant Hearts,” “Roller Coaster,” “Buried by the Blues”) and do it right for the buying public, I say.

Recommended: “Old Fangs,” “The Wilderness Heart,” “Let Spirits Ride”

3 of 5 STARS

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Dickey’s Barbeque – Alpharetta, GA

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Barbeque and I have long been friends.  Growing up, my family would occasionally go to Little Pigs BBQ in Greenwood, SC, which retains a certain nostalgia in that I know I really liked it but have long forgotten how it actually tasted.Slope's, Roswell, GA

In a more modern era, I’ve been fortunate that business travel has taken me throughout the southeast to some locally famous or not-so-famous barbeque restaurants.  Some favorites include:

Dreamland – Tuscaloosa, AL

Miss Myrna’s - Cahaba Heights, AL

Richey’s BBQ – Harpersville, AL

Melvin’s - Mount Pleasant, SC,

Swallow at the Hollow – Roswell, GA

The not-so favorites?

Sprayberry’s - Newnan, GA

Dreamland - Roswell, GA

Name a regional or larger chain (Sonny’s, Uncle Dave’s, Famous Dave’s). 

Barbeque can be a hotly debated subject.  Ample cook-offs are held each year amongst enthusiasts and restaurants, each hoping for a bit of fame.  And they’re difficult to compare.  There are various factors: meats (sliced pork, pulled pork, beef, ribs, chicken, etc.), sauces (ketchup, mustard or vinegar based), rubs/spices, type of wood for smoked flavor, type of grill, accompaniment (slaw on the BBQ?), etc.   I personally have a zero tolerance policy towards unfairly discriminating against barbeque.  They have equal rights and should all be tasted.   I’m making myself hungry writing this.  Lexington BBQ, Lexington, NC

My general “rule of thumb” is that barbeque quality increases as the elegance of the venue decreases.

If it looks like “a hole in the wall,” I’m probably going to like their BBQ.  Their are limits to this selective approach, as it turns out.  A local favorite of mine in the ‘90’s,  Benny’s, was by fair observation a greasy fire trap and would never boast an odor of a cleanser, and it was, on a dark and cloudy day, shut down by the powers that be.  But an ample portion of BBQ, a side of cole slaw, peach cobbler, and a can of Coke for $4.99 brings very fond memories.  Alas.  They knew their ‘cue.

The available options around my current office are overpriced and/or average in quality.  It was quite a surprise, then, to find a “chain” restaurant in a newly constructed strip center that was very good.  I mean, even though it bucks the tendencies, you have to try it, right?  That would be Dickey’s, a Texas chain that, I gather, is expanding via franchises.  Reasonable prices, great side order selections, free soft serve ice cream…  Winner!  I even joined their “Big Yellow Cup Club.” (translated: hoping for discount coupons or freebies).

One such email recently arrived, and rather than spell it out, you can see it at right:

Awesome, yes?  Fits a budget as well as a self-starved appetite awaiting a pig-out feast at lunchtime.

Oh baby!

We left the office at 11:30 and arrived about 11:45.  There were cars in the parking lot, but not overflowing.  Upon entering, however, there was a line.  To fair, they have a line even when they aren’t busy, because their ordering system is very inefficient and there’s only one register.  But this wasn’t just a line, it was a LINE…   But not to worry, it’s a big day!  The line will move. They’re prepared, right?

Dickey's, with 35 people ahead and 20 behind me.

Well, that’s what we thought as we decided to go ahead and give it a shot.  Besides, we were standing next to the self-serve ice cream machine.  Dessert before a meal isn’t so bad. 

*yawn*

Twenty minutes later, quite a number of people had joined the line behind us, quite a number had entered and decided against, and quite a number had made a break for other restaurants that were in the business of serving food.  We had advanced, at most, 8’, and even with that crowd, there were ample tables available.  Now, why is that?

Kind of makes you wonder about their intentions, doesn’t it?  On such a widely advertised occasion, the restaurant had their standard complement of staff:  one at the cash register, two order assemblers/table delivery, and, presumably, a couple people in the back cooking.

That’s not just poor planning.  In the face of all the advertising, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there would be lots of customers. 

If the short-handed staff wasn’t enough, it didn’t take a careful eye to note that all the employees were deliberately slow.  No hurry.  Not even a hint of regret towards the throng that awaited.  This wouldn’t be a decision that good employees would make, and I have no reason to believe otherwise.  It was obvious that despite the corporate advertising, the franchisee had no intention of cooperating with the $1 BBQ sandwich offer.  They would have done everyone a favor by “opting out” with a sign.  This was a huge waste of time for all involved, and I hope the corporate folks who take their commission on franchise sales take note.  This location flunked.

0 of 5 STARS, pathetic. 

(Don’t see a gold star above? That’s because there aren’t any).

Zaxby’s, by the way, welcomed our business.

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Kennesaw Battlefield National Park

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Convergence has been on my mind lately, namely how a wide variety of either good or bad things, but not both, seem to converge at once.  The positive are far more frequent than the negative, such as this past weekend.  Let’s look at the elements in play:

1) Weather. We begin with an absolutely beautiful day of clear blue skies, 75o temperatures, and the crispness of autumn light.

2) Football.  I love college football.  I’m also a fair-weathered friend, and watching my Clemson Tigers fold against inferior competition drives me crazy.  Clemson played Maryland on TV, a team that we have a habit of underwhelming.  Should I invest 3.5 hours to watch the latest disappointment?

3) Spousal Imperative.  As opposed to the typical lazy Saturday, my wife suggested we actually leave the house (horrors!) and enjoy the fall weather, such as a hike.  What nerve.

4) Photography.  I have a decent camera.  Can it be used for something other than DragonCon parades?  It is, actually, fun to play with, even though like X-Box controllers, there are far too many buttons.

5) Area event.  An all day “Air Show” was being held in Marietta, featuring the Blue Angels and other acrobats of the air.  With over 100,000 people expected, it’s not a traffic situation that I would seek.  I think.  But there’s a curiosity.  I mean, they’re really fast planes that do really cool things.

6) History.  This is a subject that takes effort, either by reading or listening.  TV documentaries and historical based fiction makes history enjoyable, at times.  Textbooks or Ph.D dissertations do not.  As a topic, it might equate to dark matter – invisible yet possessing substance.  I do my best to ignore it, but it’s there and unavoidable.  Somewhat closer to home than the cosmos, I’ve driven around Kennesaw Mountain many times, but never actually been to the Civil War Battlefield.

Convergence.

Well, the title obviously gives this away, but my wife and I hiked the mile or so to the top of Kennesaw Mountain, after viewing the museum exhibits and a short documentary at its base.

Not much to look at...

June 27, 1864 was a miserable day, preceded and followed by others just like it.  Even with only artist depictions based on first hand reports, warfare startles, amazes, humbles, and disappoints.  It’s just hard to imagine what soldiers do, whether at Kennesaw, at Normandy, or the mountains of Afghanistan.  The battle was considered a victory for the Confederacy, but only because they didn’t lose directly.  Afterwards, Sherman just went around Kennesaw and thereby forced a Confederate retreat to defend Atlanta.

Regarding the factors that led us to this hike, I’ll comment in order.

1) Beautiful, beautiful weather.  I would add that any single person should take their own dog, or borrow a neighbor’s, and go for a hike at Kennesaw.  The site must be listed on a Singles’ Top 5 list for outdoor activities for the athletic and attractive. 

2) Clemson won.  DVR for the win.

3) The paths are well worn and covered with crushed rock in most areas.  Yet, there are enough steep parts, protruding roots, and outcropped rocks to qualify as a “hike” rather than a walk.  Going up the mountain (700’ rise) definitely qualifies as exercise, varying upon one’s pace.  It’s a very pleasant wooded environment, and the paths are wide enough for people to pass, as well as benches to rest as needed.

4) Kennesaw is not a (photo) target rich environment at the main entrance and while hiking the mountain.  There are two other major park areas that we did not visit which likely offer more. 

Obligatory Cannon at the Park Entrance

Life at Smog Altitude

A tree atop the mountain

5. The viewing of the air show was not as good as I had hoped.  The Air Force Base being used was approx. 1.5 miles away, and, all things considered, airplanes are hard to see at that distance.  Still, there was a crowd that gathered, much like watching fireworks in the distance.  Thank you, vapor trails. 

Air Show

 Atlanta in the background

6) There remains very little of “historic note” to observe directly at this site.  However, at the top of the mountain, after what must have been considerable industrious labor to move cannons, are original embankments where the cannon were placed, such as the below.

Embankment

As far as I could determine, the battles occurred primarily on the flat ground at the base of Kennesaw Mountain, or on a smaller hill adjacent.  So, what do cannon accomplish at this height?  Consider the primitive aiming mechanisms and lack of smart weapons.

Aim a bit more to the left!  There, that'll get 'em.

I was not the first to ask this, obviously.

Not accurate, but could be fun to shoot.

The fine print, despite the artwork, basically says they were thunderous and inflicted little damage.

6) The Civil War remains “a big deal” in the South.  There are very serious students of history and warfare who are fanatics, and there are those that, for better or worse, imagine that life was better then or attribute their difficulties in life today as a consequence of the disadvantages the Confederates had back then.  I’ve never had a particular interest in Yankees and Rebels and all that surrounds that conspicuous element of Southron culture.  Yet, some years ago, an impulsive trip to Andersonville was far more instructive and introspective than I would ever have anticipated.  It carved a small opening into the giant world of “things possibly entertaining.”

The museum exhibit detailed the major skirmishes as General William T. Sherman chased Confederate General Joe Johnston from Chattanooga, TN south to Kennesaw.  As expected, there are relics from the era on display, as well as histories of the State armies involved, the factories that produced their munitions and supplies, the similarities and bonds of soldiers on opposing sides, the political necessity of Union advancement for Lincoln, and other matters.

It’s a worthwhile visit even for those casually interested.

“The success of an army is but a reflection of the skill, leadership, courage and inspiration of the generals.”  Unattributed – monument marker atop Kennesaw Mountain.

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Eric Clapton - Clapton

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I’ve been a long time fan of Eric Clapton, an artist who is now touching his 6th decade of music recordings.  Like most, my interest was in his guitar work, which built and sustains his place as a premiere artist in modern music.  That said, if I were to listen to Clapton, it’s usually something recorded live – E.C. Was Here, Unplugged, Live with Steve Winwood at Madison Square Garden, or, my favorite, Just One Night.

His studio recording career is actually not that impressive other than for its duration.  Some albums are clearly good (461 Ocean’s Boulevard, Journeyman, From the Cradle), and some are clearly bad (Reptile, Backless, Another Ticket, There’s One in Every Crowd, August, Pilgrim).  But even within the good ones, there are clunkers, and even in the bad ones, there are keepers.  His greatest, Layla & Other Associated Love Songs, stands alone for consistency but remains a collaboration with Duane Allman.  Obviously, he’s revered as a “great” for much more than the summation of many mixed bags would suggest.  He is a phenomenal guitarist, and he writes some excellent songs.  Yet, his musical styles change regularly, production values vary, his songwriting hits and misses, and he dislikes his own vocals.

So, how can I review an Eric Clapton CD and expect anything other than a mixed review? 

Well, then.  After obtaining celebrity in a number of bands (The Yardbirds and Cream, primarily), Clapton released his first solo record in 1970, titled Eric Clapton.  This isn’t a very imaginative title, but there are a lot of self-titled CDs.  On the heels of his various group recordings, one might posit that an album named such would be personal, a statement that the contents are a reflection or interpretation of who the artist is at that moment.  It fit that description to a point, as it was a solid album that showcased what he was best at but also revealed that he had further interests than just playing the blues or rock.  Clapton’s own quote regarding his initial solo CD was “This album wasn’t what it was intended to be at all.  It’s actually better than it was meant to be because, in a way, I just let it happen.  It’s an eclectic collection of songs that weren’t really on the map – and I like it so much because if it’s a surprise for the fans, that’s only because it’s a surprise to me, as well.”

40 years later, we arrive at an even less imaginative title, Clapton.  Was this because his full name had already been used? 

Or is it a symbolic bookend to a career? 

From song selection to band selection to song styles, Clapton seems a much more deliberate undertaking, but it remains committed to the eclectic.  Featuring only one original song, the CD is a revue of the old and obscure, featuring guest artists who virtually take over the lead instrumentals – Derek Trucks, Doyle Bramhall, Allen Toussaint, Wynton Marsalis, JJ Cale. Upon listening, the two most obvious observations are that Clapton all but abandons lead guitar (certainly not a buyer expectation) and, ironically, that the CD is largely a vocal performance by Clapton.  This certainly isn’t considered playing to one’s strengths.

The set begins with “Travelin’ Alone,” a bluesy song that seems self restrained both in vocals and guitar tones.  It does, however, set the mood for much of what follows.  Second is “Rocking Chair,” a cover song but one that invites speculation lyrically for an artist who is now 65.  It’s among the strongest cuts on the CD, and I would imagine that Clapton’s only regret is that his voice lacks the gravel of past blues masters.

Next is “River Runs Deep,” a song co-sung by its author, JJ Cale.  This is another mood piece, beautiful in its understatement and subtlety, or, conversely, tamed to suit those nearing slumber.  I think it falls in the former category.  The harmonica driven “Judgment Day” follows in a theme similar to “Rocking Chair,” but lacks the former’s affective spirit.

Piano, jazz guitar, and keyboard washes set the mood for “How Deep is the Ocean,” and, hey, this is an Eric Clapton CD, right?  Yes, it is.  And don’t forget the trumpet solo.  To my ears, “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” is the misfit of the bunch.   The music, the melody, the vocals… I just don’t need to hear this one. 

“Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” features guitar and harmonica in what wants to be a slow blues rocker, but it never quite delivers.  JJ Cale returns to assist on “That’s No Way to Get Along,” featuring slide guitar and sounding mid-70’s era Clapton. But it’s not particularly energetic.

The bass and percussion underpin “Everything Will Be Alright,” which is to say it’s okay but forgettable.  Sheryl Crow tries to uplift a song about overcoming in “Diamonds Made from Rain,” which still sounds a bit of a downer due to the lower musical tones that persist through the CD.  Clapton unleashes his inner Satchelmouth on “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful,” a piano based song that succeeds, surprisingly. 

“Hard Time Blues” revisits the roots of Clapton’s inspirations, with beautifully played guitar as would be expected.  “Run Back to Your Side” qualifies as the best rock song on the CD.  In that it’s the only song that attempts that distinction doesn’t lessen its value.  It features a mean slide guitar riff borrowed from Los Super Seven or earlier musical ancestors.

On the heels of a scorcher, we conclude with “Autumn Leaves,” a jazzy piano piece with all of the emphasis on Clapton’s vocals.  And it’s a clear winner.

Is this a great Clapton CD?  Clearly not.  Is it bad?  No.  There’s too many good moments.  If it weren’t a Clapton CD, how would it be regarded?  That’s the test that this must face, because while he has included “roots music” through his career, this rarely sounds like anything that Clapton has done.  He deserves a lot of credit for the song selection and shaping each song the way he has, but it remains a trademark hit and miss. 

Recommended Songs: “Rocking Chair,” “Hard Time Blues,” “Run Back to Your Side,” and “Autumn Leaves.”

3 of 5 STARS

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When I grow up…

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…I want to be a ________.

It’s a familiar question from early childhood, and it has fairly standard answers.  A doctor, a policeman, a lawyer, a fireman, an astronaut, a mom or dad.

Having recently put a child in college, it’s amazing how many majors there are today and all the possibilities for finding meaningful, fulfilling work.  It’s no surprise to anyone who has lived a little bit, however, that the number of potential occupations far exceeds the number of college majors.  The 2000 Alphabetical Index of Industries and Occupations, a byproduct of the Census and other governmental databases, lists about 21,000 industries and 31,000 occupation titles.  (Interestingly, the number of industries is the same as the survey in 1990, but 1,000 new occupation titles were added.  I’d imagine an even split between advanced technology careers and shades of government welfare).

I know a good number of young adults who have recently graduated college.  With a college degree comes an expectation that there will be a job related to their chosen field of study.  In the current economy, perhaps they’re less choosy, but even in better times, experience says that a majority of graduates find careers largely unrelated to their college studies.  In any case, regardless of whether one is working on a factory floor or on Madison Avenue, the majority of training is provided by the employer, on the job.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been exposed to a very wide variety of businesses – manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, farmers, contractors, service industries… Some jobs I’ve seen hold some appeal, but most have not.  I would like to say that this provides some weight to an argument that I’m in the career that I should be in, but it mostly points to 1) having options and 2) choosing well at key points in life.  Neither is guaranteed by the virtue of being born – in the USA or anywhere else.

Over time, the diversity of witnessing who we are and what we do leads to thoughtful debates on wealth vs. poverty, providence vs. chance, intelligence vs. ignorance, passion vs. resignation, wisdom vs. foolishness, and comfort vs. desperation, among others.  These aren’t judgmental debates about the intrinsic value of one person vs. another or some societal value of one job vs. another.  Everything needs to get done, and people are needed to all those things.  But that’s at a macro level.

Individually, it’s a reflection of how the accumulated forks in the road of one’s life lead to where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.  These thoughts evolve from observations of people doing all sorts of jobs which result in the recurring question, “How in the world did that person come to find a career doing that?”

Note: This video may be removed as it has been at some other site.  TheOLE.Org is the author of the video.

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Kickstarter

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As a teenager, I used to read Rolling Stone and occasionally Billboard magazine to see what songs or albums were at the top of the charts, amongst other articles.  Casey Kasem’s Top 40 (a radio show) was a Sunday staple, a great way to learn snippets of history about the artists or the context of the songs, at least for one newly entering the realm of musical influence.

Times have changed, and I have changed.  I don’t really care who is at the top of anyone’s charts, and I’m losing familiarity with any of the names that appear on the charts that remain.  It seems on the few occasions that I listen to the radio, “classic rock” pretty well encompasses either what was already classic when I was in school or was currently playing at the time – often, as it turns out, the same artists touring today to continue to compete for my generation’s disposable income. 

Shortly after college, a friend of mine worked for a record store and started adding tons of CDs to his otherwise “classic” collection – all of which were obscure artists which were recorded by record labels that were just as obscure.  Why we he bother listen to these?  After all, the major labels did a pretty good job of sifting through all the noise to find the artists that could play well and had something interesting or tuneful to say.  It can’t be said that classic rock got it wrong.  I didn’t get it, and, looking back, I’m fairly certain that most of what he started listening to was garbage.  Still, the oddity that it was then is the norm that is today.

Those major recording labels are pretty much gone, either bought up by Sony or another conglomerate to cash in on re-releases or otherwise out of business.  Capital, Elektra, Geffen, Island, Columbia, Warner Brothers, Reprise, MCA…  they’re mostly footnotes in today’s musical landscape. 

Marketing obviously has power.  The industry “process” of elevating artists has been replaced (with popular approval and to my consternation) by “American Idol,” spot placements on popular TV shows, and i-Tunes bestsellers.  There’s always been a “single” vs. “album” buying decision, but the industry is pimping the singles to the detriment of the “deeper cuts” from albums that have worn favor from many a listener.

As “owning” music has evolved from something physical (albums, CDs, etc.) to digital (.mp3, the cloud), the focus of musical marketing has changed.  Why should labels push “albums” when buyers seem to prefer individual songs (or, at least those who don’t illegally file share).  Paste Magazine, which was a very good source of music reviews of artists who aren’t generally featured on regular FM channels, all but closed their doors due to lack of advertising revenue.  The economy notwithstanding, I would imagine it’s increasingly difficult to choose to advertise traditional products (a complete set of new songs by an artist) when the popular culture of a changing demographic prefers karaoke reality shows, Pandora or Genius to fill in the blanks.  Let’s face it.  Newly released rock (in almost all its forms), folk, Americana, and jazz have little hope of gaining commercial airplay these days.

The impact works both ways.  Artists who are at the top of the charts, made popular by whatever means, presumably make money, which puts them in the best position to continue recording.  And their songs get heard.  Well enough.

However, for those artists without a marketing gorilla working in their interests, how do they find an audience?  The remaining major labels still have some clout in song placements, but they’re increasingly irrelevant in selecting and promoting talent.   With an even more challenging environment to make money (less exposure and single song sales), how do artists earn a living to continue their art?

Build a website… host some songs on MySpace… tour, tour, tour… record in a home studio tweaked by ProTools, tour, tour, tour… 

Shannon McNally (try “Pale Moon” if you follow the link) is not one of my all time favorite artists.  She’s written and recorded some excellent songs which are among my all time favorites, but her album choices, from songs to arrangements to production values, have been erratic.  I don’t know the history behind the decisions she makes, I just like what I like and hope for more of the same whenever they may come.

Having become a “fan” on Facebook, I was notified that she was raising $10,000 to fund the production of a new CD (“Western Ballad”) via Kickstarter, a website that provides the means for artists to fund their projects with private backing – as enterprising as they may choose.

McNally posted a couple of new songs to gain fan confidence in the direction she was headed, and she made offers to her fans for their support.

Such as?  Here’s some of the available options:

$15 – pay now, get CD when released.

$25 – plus a handwritten Thank you note.

$35 – CD and T-shirt

$50- CD and VIP passes at concert of choice.

$60 – CD and songwriting tutorial with Shannon.

$75 – CD and personal phone call.

$500 – A bunch of stuff plus a thank you in the CD credits.

$1500 – a house party gig anywhere in the U.S. 

$10,000 – a trip to New Orleans, a trip to the studio with a 5 piece band, and apparently some home cooked meals.  (no takers indicated on this one yet, but there are on the others).

There are other options as well, and some of these evolved as she began to understand what she could offer and what people wanted.  So far, she’s raised $19,460 with over 140 backers.  I’d call that a success… and even an amazing story.

It may be apparent that I have a preference for physical products over digital copies that could be wiped out with an errant magnet or other corruption, but I can’t deny the convenience of condensing incredible volumes of sound into a device that is smaller than one’s palm.

But even as the evolution of technology has threatened the music industry of old (not to mention a generation of guppies lacking musical discernment), it’s refreshing to see that technology also offers artists new means of pursuing their dreams and visions, and, in McNally’s case, one by which they draw even closer to their fans.

And of course, I get to look forward to the end of the month when “Western Ballad” arrives by mail, a CD which I had at least a small part of enabling.

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