Archive for March, 2010


March 24, 2010

In Broadcasting Arts class (instructed by CFNY alum Liz Janik) I remember the shock that spread through the class when it was commented that Toronto’s most popular morning radio personality likely earned around three-quarters of a million dollars a year.   Their job?  To chat on the radio every morning between songs and commercials.

Seven-hundred and fifty THOUSAND dollars…to answer phones, chat about celebrities, mention what they had for dinner the night before, laugh at jokes, and introduce songs.

It occurred to me this morning: who would you rather have earning that kind of money?  The person you invite into your morning commute every morning, or the person you scoff at for eating bugs and ‘surviving’ on a desert island for 20 days on TV?

Because, really, its all about the same thing: Personality.

This all came up because a song’s chorus won’t leave my head.  I don’t want to name it as I’ll be scoffed at by friends who are well aware I’ll be interning for the label who signed the artist…but let’s just say it’s about becoming a reality TV star, and the chorus involves the sound of a cash register.

These reality stars get their chance at fame because they have personality.  Love ’em, hate ’em, at least they’re interesting! They were hand-selected NOT because of their skill at tying knots or starting fires…in fact, it’s the opposite that gives them the biggest chance…but for their personality: were they the BIGGEST of their ‘type?’ I mean, you can’t have two barbie girls, two old men, two athletes, two flaming queens and two religious mothers!  Imagine how boring that would be! But if you have the prettiest ballerina, the gruffest farmer, and a man so gay he ignites the island…THAT’S A SHOW!!!

Now for a game…

Picture your fifteen closest friends.  Not ‘funnest’ friends…you can include work friends and school friends who are close but not party animals in this brain game.  Now…picture a reality show about them.  Which people would draw the most interest from viewers, get the most votes, have the biggest Facebook fan page?  Do you have four math nerds, gamer geeks, or fashion police in your circle of friends?  Are there three people who don’t like to talk in crowds?  Worse…is there only one person who’s a leader, the rest kinda sheepish?

The ones with the most fan tweets…the ones with the most personality.

And that’s why they CALL a radio show host a ‘Personality.’  They aren’t DJing…if you’re LUCKY they’re actually using a computer to drag song-files into a queue between ads and PSAs.  No, they are hired because they can project an interesting personality with only their voice.  A personality that the majority (not all, of course) of listeners can relate to, laugh with, want to hear about last night’s dinner, talk to on the air, invite into their morning commute…

That takes a lot of skill, and as I hope I just showed with my ‘Reality TV’ game is not something everyone can do.  To single-handedly keep the interest of thousands of people, to be the best at something that thousands of people interact with…and keep them listening through commercials! I’d say that’s worth three-quarters of a mill.

I’m not ending there!  Take a moment to ponder the concept of personality and now apply it to your favourite AND least favourite musicians, actors, politicians, etc.  I’d wager that your favourites have personalities you like or that interest you…and that your least favourites either have NO personality, or have one that grates you. I’d also wager that, except in crazy circumstances, the ones with no personality are usually less successful than the others.

They say that people who hated Howard Stern tended to listen to his show even longer than those who were fans.  THAT’S personality.



March 12, 2010

I try to see things in greys…well, I prefer to see things in shades of pink, but for the purposes of an unbiased commentary, greys it is.  When weighing options for a decision it’s VERY easy to think of things in blacks and whites ’cause that’s pretty much how everything is presented to us: you’re liberal or you’re conservative, climate change is happening or it’s not happening at all, this song I’m writing is good or it’s craptastic.

…I like uncertainty.  Uncertainty is kinda grey, like gargoyle stone or eastern grey kangaroo fur (…OK, I’ll stop!).  It’s where most of us live but it feels like it’s supposed to be bad so we try to swim out of the grey in one or the other direction.  If you think about it, one direction is probably about 10% of the whole story, and the other extreme is probably 10% as well.  We all swim around in 80% of grey, leaning one way or the other.

I want to try to make people more comfortable with the concept of uncertainty.

For instance, without being all politicky, when you read up in the news it’s normally one of two things: climate change is happening and it’s scary, or climate change isn’t happening at all so relax.  But what if it’s somewhere in the middle?? I mean, one side screws up now and again, the other side picks apart at the mistake to say that their side is right, but BOTH sides are claiming that their studies are right.  Doesn’t that kinda mean they’re both right…but they’re both screwing up somewhere…and the answer is somewhere in the middle?

I mean, if we could all throw away our egos, maybe we could work together and figure out where the mistake is, and move from there!  But nope…we gotta cloud ourselves in blacks and whites.  We gotta choose one side since it would be IMPOSSIBLE for something to be a dash of this and a splash of that, a blend.


Again, not getting politicky but just being like…chatty…I keep hearing people say “My side is right!” when it comes to being left wing, or right wing.  Or, even better, ‘My side is right, and your side is PURE EVIL!’ Because, you know, the villain KNOW’S that they’re evil and their whole purpose in life is to cause mayhem and misery.

Read up on villains.  They usually think they’re doing something helpful or right.  To the hero it’s not what they consider good…hell, to the villain, it’s the HERO is causing all the problems.

Again, each side thinks that they’re right…so, really, doesn’t the truth rest somewhere in the uncertainty of it all?  The grey area?  Maybe if they stopped spinning stories to make themselves look great they could work together and find out where the problem is, that thing that’s jarring both sides from getting anywhere, and focus on THAT rather than…damn, here we are again…one extreme, the other extreme, and their egos.

MUSIC!  That’s what I was getting to.  There’s even a subjective, creative side to this.  When I write a song I always choose one side, though I’m sure for most songwriters it’s one or the other: damn this song sucks (…most other people choose the other option, that the song rocks…I’m special)

But the song came out of my head!  And other people tend to say my songs are, at the very least, neat.  So I have a choice…stick with my extreme side, and my…anti-ego?…and scrap the song.  I mean, it sucks, why go on?

Or…I can embrace uncertainty.  ‘What is it about the song that sucks?’  Some of the songs I’ve grown to love were born out of this:  I decided to wade into the grey area, find something that seemed off, and work with it, make it better.

A song born out of compromise and acceptance.

I dunno…maybe I’m misunderstanding how to see the world, maybe that’s what makes my approach to the world so seemingly different from most people I know. I kinda find comfort in uncertainty.  It means there’s room for improvement, and there’s an opportunity to make something better.

If something is one extreme or the other…it’s kinda already reached it’s destination…it’s not going anywhere.

Technological Change and MST3K

March 10, 2010

A hundred years ago, the car was a novelty.  Maybe you’d see one at an exhibition…the thought of a car being similar to seeing a new gadget at a conference kinda makes you wonder what bizarre contraption will be as transformative culturally and socially as the car.  It was mocked (like Virtual Boy…and the iPad…and a half dozen other new inventions), the common question: why would you want that, when you have a perfectly good horse?!?

Forty years later…teenagers were defined by their car…and transistor radio defined them with music (hell, when the first cars were made musical recordings had to be loud and recorded live…there was no tape, and Les Paul wasn’t around to be clever and discover multitracking!), and television was replacing radio…dudes…COMMERCIALS on TV were only ten years old!

Fast-Forward…damn, even THAT term is outdated…to me, here, 2010, done school and applying for internships and watching TV (oooh, colour, flat screen, take THAT 1950s!), but more importantly, MST3K.

…for the uninitiated…MST3K stands for ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000,’ and if you don’t wanna click the Wiki-link here’s a quick description: guys make fun of bad movies. For the bizarre entire truth, click the link, but you know all you need to for the purposes of this blog.

I’m watching an episode and am oddly taken by the super-time-travelliness of it all.  I mean, the movie itself was made in 1983, and the episode of MST3K was broadcast ten years later in 1993…and it is now SEVENTEEN years since that broadcast.  So…I’m already in the headspace: technological change!

Hold up…I have another tangent to go on…

I was first introduced to MST3K through my friend’s brother back in the early to mid nineties.  How, you might ask?  I want you to think STRONGLY about how you get your media now.  Thinking?  Good…here goes…

My friend’s brother had a friend who had a friend in the states who would tape the shows and then make several copies of those tapes and send them around, one of the people on the end of the distribution of that first round was my friend’s brother’s friend who would THEN make copies and give them to my friend’s brother, who would bring them home…and then I would go to my friend’s place…and we’d watch them.

I still have some of the original tapes in my house.  I stole them.

Now, with that in mind, I want you to know that the episodes although dated mockeries of dated movies are STILL hilarious…I believe it still holds a record for most laughs a minute because they sometimes toss out dozens of jokes in 60 seconds.  Think about your standard sitcom…where a minute or two can go by without a single good joke.  The references they make – who people look like, what they sound like, the music…THE MUSIC!

And that’s where it hit me.  At the start of the episode I was watching they made reference to an obscure synth band from the 80s, Synergy, who I knew through my boyfriend who listens to them ’cause he’s into New Age music…don’t ask…and as I laughed both in shock at the reference and at the timing of the joke they made another reference…to a show the main actor had been in before this, called The Paper Chase.

After two or more references I went to Wiki the show.  And then…it hit me.

…where the HELL did these guys get their information?  There was no wiki, no internet, hell no CELL PHONES of worth back in 1993 when they broadcast the episode.  Each show is a pile of obscure references, and all of them HAD to be in the heads of the writing staff at the time of watching and coming up with jokes and gags.

Today…we can do a google search and find something out.  Back then…SOMEONE had to know it…and then they had to tell you.  Just like with those tapes…someone had to know it…and record it…and copy it…and distribute it…otherwise a kid in rural Ontario may never have had a chance to see it.

I kinda wanted to end on that note, but another thought came to mind…some things DID get to my small town, even though we didn’t have Much Music or cable TV.  We knew what popular songs were on the radio, and what popular movies were coming out on VHS.  Before the internet…you were given a meagre selection and you chose what you liked.  An indie musician in Erin would probably play a show or two in Guelph…but that was the extent of their reach.

In other words…the technological change has made things a LOT easier for everyone…but that also means everyone has a chance to toss the word out and fill the space.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

…I must say…discovering tapes of an obscure American TV show was pretty exhilerating.  I’m not sure what has replaced it for 2010.


Mark Linkous

March 8, 2010

In my last blog I placed Sparklehorse atop a list of sad and pretty songs.  I also noted that I had trouble avoiding the urge to populate the entire list with Sparklehorse music.  In fact, if it weren’t for Aimee Mann, I would probably have a hard time making a list of my favourite songs without Sparklehorse dominating the top ten.

One response I got in return, obviously with a note of sarcasm, was someone sincerely doubting my dedication to Sparklehorse.

I cite my entire reason for continuing with music after my high school band broke up, at a time when I was taking theatre in University with the goal of being a big name actor or director, as entirely due to Mark Linkous, who *is* Sparklehorse.  My entire reason for being a songwriter was inspired by his music, sparked by listening to his albums, striving to write just *one* song that might have the slightest reflection of his style and his skill.

Since 1997 I have bought every Sparklehorse album as it came out.  I even bought the amazing ‘Dark Night Of The Soul’ book with photography by David Lynch and a blank CD in back, a slap to the face of EMI by Mark and his compatriot Danger Mouse for blocking the album’s release (which, ironically, has recently been overturned and the album should hit stores this year).

‘Vivadixie…’ was the soundtrack of my freedom and independence.

‘Good Morning, Spider’ was the soundtrack of my first summer living on my own and first real job.

‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ was the soundtrack of my life outside of school.

‘Dreamt for Light Years…’ brought me back into the desire to experiment with art.

I finished school Thursday, March 4th…I most certainly had the thought that one day I ‘might’ get the chance to work with Mark Linkous.

Mark Linkous died March 6th.

I’m not frustrated.  I’m happy I had the chance to hear his music in the first place.  And it will always be there to push me forward with my own music and my own life. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend that you try to check out at least one or two songs by Sparklehorse.  I’d give specific suggestions but I can’t…I like every song he’s ever written.

Take care, Mark.  There’s a heaven and there’s a star for you.

Five Pretty Sad Songs You May Not Know

March 4, 2010

I’ve noticed I’m listening to a lot of pretty sad songs recently and thinking “Damn…these are spiffy.” …not really, I only write old-time colloquialisms.  I’ve actually been thinking “…these are sad…and pretty.”

So I decided to go over my brain-collection and try to identify the best sad songs I know.  There were some battles: Sparklehorse COULD have been here a half dozen times.  But accepting that each band gets ONE song, this is what I came up with, linked to YouTube for ease of listening:

Sparklehorse – Homecoming Queen: Damn…half of ‘Vivadixie…’ and a quarter of ‘Good Morning, Spider’ could be here…I chose this one because of its haunting melody, simple guitar, and Mr. Linkous’ amazing vocals.  It’s also the first Sparklehorse song I ever heard…yup yup! I started listening from Album 1, Track 1 and never looked back!

Aimee Mann – It’s Not: The only song GUARANTEED to make me cry.  The thing I noticed recently…the melody, it’s actually almost juxtaposed to the lyrics and the chord progression.  Maybe I’m overthinking it, but please: listen to the melody and picture it as jig, or children’s song.  It’s almost hopeful…whereas the lyrics are pretty damning.  Best to listen to as it sits on the album: dead last of ‘Lost In Space.’  It has it’s most power closing off the album which is really more of a story.

The Middle East – Blood: SOOO pretty.  I only feel anger because they’re hitting Montreal and Vancouver, but skipping Toronto on their current tour, and who the hell knows when an Australian folk act will come back this way.  For subject matter…probably the saddest of the five selected songs.  Like Aimee, though, there’s this…sense of hope, especially near the end, where the song becomes a bit more upbeat.

Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche: A wall of pretty instruments doing pretty things with each other.  I’m not the best when it comes to interpreting lyrics…I kinda get this feeling that it’s about failing, or making a mistake…or at least being swept up in something not so pleasant.  Proper use of banjo is acknowledged and appreciated.

Kathleen Edwards – Buffalo: Kathleen’s wonderful ear for tones, a pretty song that just makes me feel how I’ve felt many times in my life: stranded. I learned what ‘Jennys’ are ’cause of this song (Generators!) Amazing strings, well-crafted, very Kathleen. (Sound quality isn’t that great…and the video is of nature art, but it’s the song!)


March 4, 2010

Just a quick one today…school finishes as of approximately 8:30 pm this evening.  Instead of being clever, I thought I’d write down a few cliches:

It’s the end of my journey, but truly, isn’t every end just a new beginning?

I am done being the student…though even in work I will always be a student…of life.

Classes may be over, but I will never stop learning.

Everything I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarden…this was all just icing on the cake.

One day I hope to return as a teacher so that I may once again be a student.

(…gah, these are killing me!)

And a few parting words from some of my instructors (…please forgive me):

And that’s just part of the proverbial process of how we do things…

The most important thing to take away…(trail off…indecipherable)…AND THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW!

You don’t know who I am?  You’re all FOOLS!

Mary Shelley…Cavemen…Machiavelli…that’s ALL you need to know about live sound.


It’s been a wild ride, Harris!  You’ll be hearing from me!