May 29, 2004


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After the Mix Tape I Guess Comes The Tears: Mixtapes, Major Labels and the Song Flow

Steven Shaviro has a great take on Ghostface's The Pretty Toney Album.

I do have something of a disagreement, almost a technicality of one. But its a technicality that reveals a lot about the state of music today so I'm going to run with it.

Shaviro puts out a hypothesis on why The Pretty Toney Album has been somewhat poorly received by fans:

Judging from what I've read on fan websites and bulletin boards, the true Ghostface Killah fans don't like this one as much as his earlier solo work, Ironman and Supreme Clientele. This seems to be because, in dropping the "Killah" from his name, Ghostface has changed the ratio between hard-headed thug narratives and squishy love songs, having less of the former and more of the latter.

Now for one I think Shaviro seriously underestimates both how much soul has been in Ghostface since day one, and also what his audience wants. Ghost's two tracks on the first Wu-Tang record (Tearz, and Can it Be That it Was All So Simple Then) where both soul sampled powered and nearly as emotional as any of the new album. Ghost has always been the emotional Wu member, lurking in background while the more upfront styles of Method Man, ODB, Genius and Raekwon led to record deals. And I doubt most of his fans are sitting around waiting for him to make a more gangster record, there are far to many of those around anyway. When people want Ghost they want emotion, they want soul.

The real issue though is in the physical package of a CD, and it illustrates the deep changes the music industry is beginning to undergo. People where disappointed, not that Pretty Toney wasn't as good as his old records, but because it wasn't as good as the new ones that didn't make it. Disappointed that it wasn't as good as his mix tape output. Quite simply the recordings that made the album are not even close to the quality of some of the ones that failed to make the cut, for legal reasons. And in following the track of Ghostface's recorded output we can see specters of the future of music.

In hip hop there are actually two record industries. One is the old school, major labels, and independent labels based on their model. They make money by selling recordings and controlling copyright. The are legal, traditional and grasping at ways to deal with a digital future. Then there is the mix tape industry, illegal, under the counter, occasionally violent and deeply in touch with future. Its a parallel black market economy, routing around the bureaucracy of "capitalist" laws, much the way eastern block black markets routed around the bureaucracy of "communist" laws.

The term "mix tape" is quite misleading. They are all CD's now, and many are not mixed in any sense. Some are compilations, others devoted to one artist. Some pit one artist's output against another, song for song. Others are filled with "freestyles". Some of these freestyles are traditional, songs rhymed off the top the head, one take and roll. Sometimes however a freestyle turns out to be a full song, and more and more frequently the mix CDs are resembling traditional record industry albums. The "freestyles" become songs and the "mixes" become a collection of brand new material.

Artists use mix CDs to build reputations, test out new songs, and increasingly to make money. Traditionally the money goes to the DJ putting together the cd, as well as assorted manufacturers, distributors and perhaps organized crime figures. Its hard to tell in this illegal economy but I suspect mix tape DJs are now paying artists for exclusive tracks and freestyles. Hip hop is a music of exaggeration, but I suspect there is a degree of truth to the stories of artists and DJs going "platinum" in the streets. They might not be making the millions they claim, but selling say 50,000 CDs at $10 a pop is not exactly a way get poor...

One of the most interesting aspects of the mix tape economy is how it deals with copyright. And this is where Ghostface comes back in. On a mix tape, no one gives a damn about copyright or sample clearance. Want to sample the Beatles, go right ahead. If EMI ever finds out about the act they'll have a hard time finding the person to sue, and an even harder time assessing the "damages". Now Ghostface is an artist who shines on top of samples, for reasons Shaviro explores in his piece.

Samples though are expensive. Sometime like in the case of the Beatles, they aren't allowed. No amount of money would allow Ghostface to release "My Guitar" (aka "Beatles") on a major label. And in between his previous album Bulletproof Wallets and this current one Ghostface released dozens of songs. Some ended up on the album. Others don't merit much attention. But a sharp handful are both brilliant and incapable of being released on a major record label. Illegal music.

Shaviro is right that fans are somewhat disappointed, but its not because of the soul content on the record. It's because the legal record, just isn't as good as the illegal one already released. Chain together "The Sun", "The Watch" (both of which got cut from Bulletproof Wallets due to sample clearance issues, and only now getting real circulation), "The Splash", "My Guitar", "Milk Crates", "Burnin'", "The Drummer", "Summertime (remix)" (a remix of Beyonce, never commercially released, but which has been on heavy rotation in hip hop radio for nearly a year), and "Box in Hand" and you have a classic record. If half those songs had made The Pretty Toney Album fans would be in rapture. But they all couldn't make the cut due to various legal reasons. Instead the fans find rapture in mix CDs, and online where the "Wu Tang Corp." quitely releases most Ghostface's semi-legal output.In this situation the album's role suddenly becomes reversed. Instead of representing the cream of an artists output, it becomes the repository of their detritus, a legal document filled with legal music in an illegal world.

With Ghostface we can see glimmers of the legal cd transforming into a vestigial organ. A ritualize release that has little to do with the real flow of music. The tension that once existed with a new release is gone. Once people waited in anticipation to hear what their favorite artists had created. Now the songs filter in through the internet, arriving often with surprise, not anticipation. The songs streaming through the internet, or the black market mix tape network, often fail to reach a proper major label cd, but they don't fail to reach the fans. And with each release the major labels fall behind both in terms of release dates (a major label cd is always stale), and legality. In a move perhaps learned from internet engineers, culture is routing around the obstacles of law.

Posted by Abe at 05:07 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

May 19, 2004

Institutionalist Historians?

Anyone out there know of any historians worthy of being called institutionalists? The more contemporary the better (assuming any exist). What I'd like to find are historians looking at the world in terms of the interactions between large institutions (religions, governments, labor/guilds, armies, businesses, etc), sans dialectics and sans over reliance on markets as an end all be all.

Anyone know of a good jumping off point?

Posted by Abe at 09:26 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

Kerry Doonesbury Parody Contest

The John Kerry Doonesbury Parody Contest is running over at American Dynamics. Check it out and then tell all your friends, can you?

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May 16, 2004

The "Return" of Class

It's no accident that the ruling alliance lost heavily in Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu, precisely the states that wooed information technology giants such as Microsoft to set up shop, turning sleepy "second cities" such as Madras, Bangalore and Hyderabad into new-tech boom towns. That's because while the rich got richer, the fortunes of the poor, such as the farmers of Andhra, declined year by year. The gulf between India's rich and poor has never looked wider than it does today, and the government has fallen into that chasm.

- Salman Rushdie on India's New Era

Posted by Abe at 11:04 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

A Poem

"They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose."

English folk poem, circa 1764

[via MaxSpeak, You Listen! comments]

Posted by Abe at 01:05 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

May 15, 2004

Can Someone Send Me a Copy of the Full Install of MT 2.661?

Movable Type appears to be writing a new chapter on how not to ad a business model to free product. Obviously the software (which is used to power this site) can't stay free forever and also be a business. But radically alienating existing loyal users isn't exactly the best way to build a business.

Any way that's all sort of boring, and I'm only writing it cause I now am in need of a back up installer for version 2.661, which is what I am running now. Its all fine and dandy and I plan to leave it like this for quite while if possible. But I'd feel a lot better knowing I could reinstall it if necessary. So if anyone has a copy please send it my way.

Also worth noting that this new version of Movable Type is supposedly for "developers" only, yet you can no longer download the old far freer version from their site, hmmmmm....

update: got a copy (big thanks to two Johns!) and MT reportedly is still serving old version, but only if you log in via TypeKey. Not sure if the old versions have the old or new license though.

Posted by Abe at 10:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 13, 2004

Welcome to the Slow Space

highly astute readers might have noticed that the taglione of this site just shifted from "nomadic, intense, daily" to "nomadic, intense, not quite daily". Undoubtablely that will change once I figure out something better. In any case that tagline change is symbolic of a shift in attitude towards this space, less posting, more development and research. Hell I might even proof read once or twice... The usual eclectic subject matter will remain though, so fear not and stay tuned.

Those seeking raw velocity of information can find it at American Dynamics. Where I have learned that it pays to be focused, that site already has more readers then this one...

Posted by Abe at 03:48 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

May 09, 2004

Government Markets

Using Capitalism to Clean the Sky is the article title, but oddly enough the "capitalism" they describe is created by the government. Hmmmm.

Specifically the article talks about environmentalists buying up licenses to release sulfur dioxide into the air. Licenses to pollute. Licenses created by the government. True believers in markets like to hype up their efficiency which is about as polluted a word as you can get... Ironically it seems it would perhaps be more efficient if government just released less licenses, wouldn't it?

Yes and no. The problem with direct government regulation of industry is generally not an issue of inefficiency, but of rigidity, power and conflict. When a government directly regulates an industry, it imposes its power and forces the industry into the rigidity of regulation. This places government and industry into direct conflict with each other, the creation of an economic war.

When the government creates a market of regulation, the government and industry are no longer in conflict, but are now working in cooperation, they are partners in a market. In exchange for the power to directly regulate the industry, the government gets the power to regulate the market. The relationship between government and industry is no longer rigid, but instead fluid.

As for whether governments understand how to use this power to regulate the markets they have created, that is a story for another day.

Posted by Abe at 01:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 06, 2004


Like many people in this world, I suffer from an unfortunate addiction to money. If I don't have enough of it I go into a tragic state of withdrawal. I find it difficult to eat. I'm unable to travel as far and as efficiently as I'd like. Doorways are suddenly blocked to my passing. Bills become stressed. Bad stuff, not fun. I find it impossible to quit, and I've long since decided I should live with this addiction.

Now most money addicts tend to support their habits by entering into long term contracts with one particular money provider. Generally this involves hanging around the provider's premises for about 8 hours a day or more, 5 days a week doing odd tasks. While some take great pleasure in this routine, I prefer a taste more diversity. So I avoid the long term contracts and hang out with a variety of providers around the globe, and bestowing them with gifts from my laptop.

Generally it works great. Except all of a sudden my favorite dealers all seem to be out of stock. In other words, I don't seem to have any paying clients. Which isn't very good. Especially since, while I love working with new clients, I don't particularly enjoy looking for them. So consider this an experiment in seeing if I can get clients to come to me rather then seeking them out.

So what exactly do I do anyway? Well preferably I'd love to be one of those amorphous things known as overpaid consultants. But that doesn't tend to happen so instead I'd very happily do any of the following for money: graphic design, web design, Flash development/Actionscript programming, non-overpaid consulting on design, media, politics, branding and beyond, and even graphic production in the right circumstances. I might even try writing words for actual money, which I've never actually done before... And since I'm always open to new experiences I might even be willing to experiment with an actual permanent, non-freelance position, something which I have even less experience with than exchanging words for money ;) Don't get your hopes up on that last one though...

Over at you can find a partial list of past clients. And if I continue to have this freeish time, there might even be more content over there. Feel free to shoot me an email at: abe |at| abeburmeisterdesign |dot| com with any questions, or better yet projects.

all my love,

ps: if you happen to be of the opinion that my time would be better spent making art, blogging and writing a book about nomad economics, please feel free to just give me cash directly by clicking the button below:

Posted by Abe at 05:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 05, 2004

American Dynamics: War and Spectacle

Astute readers of this site will remember I've shifted my political posts over to an new site, American Dynamics. Still in the beta/experimental stage as I figure out exactly how I want to develop the site, but there is loads of content already...

In particular you might want to check out American Dynamics: War and Spectacle, which is something of a borderline post. Its certainly political, hence its posted there not here, but its got a theoretical side that might be of interest. So yeah go read it if ya wish.

all my love,

ps: I already linked it in the sidebar, but my friend Adam Greenfield's post: On responsibility and hope also deserves the main column attention.

Posted by Abe at 01:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hello Germany

If you happen to be in Bonn round June 9-12, 911:State of Emergence, a piece I created with [sic] under the 47 banner, will apparently be in the Film Music Biennial Bonn 2004. Can't find a website for it though. More info when I get it...

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