Greetings friends and companions of the Dojo. Today (3.23.09) draws another anniversary line, marking the completion of our second circle around the sun.
Should the arc of our career be as broad and sweeping as last year's Virgin Bulletin suggested it wouldn't, we'll trudge that arc with the mostly-disreputable moral code laid out in the Manifesto below. No missteps.
The writing of our Manifesto (which is still below, but it's pretty far down) was provoked by a fairly inspiring episode in an Asian grocery market. Lum was involved. And when it was over, he wrote me a letter on a piece of computer paper. Upon receiving it, I was entertained. Thus, I decided to do you, a reader, a favor and retell the story.
The summary is this: Lum won a karaoke contest.
But he didn't mean to enter. What he meant to do was buy a fish that either had or didn't have a head at an Asian market. But in addition to buying a fish, he was accosted by a little Korean grocery clerk.
"Excuse sir, does you sing?"
She grabbed his arm and tugged him toward a platform ("stage") in the middle of the store. Still a little confused (and still holding a saran-wrapped tilapia), the music started.
It was that David Bowie song Ziggy Stardust.
Having endured years of rigorous study with the Elders, Lum was obviously familiar with this number.
So he switched the tilapia to his left hand, grabbed the mic with his right, and began his performance. When the song got to the cuss words, he was a little unsure if he should sing them (being as the "audience" was comprised mostly of little kids).
He ended up belting them out really loudly (assuming Asian kids don't know the words but for the melody they make).
After the performance, a child with Down syndrome came up and gave Lum a hug. A big one.
Lum hugged him back. A medium-sized one. And then the following conversation took place:
DSK: "Do you wanna have lunch with me?"
Lum: "I can't, I have to go to work."
Lum: "I need money."
Lum: "I don't really know."
DSK: "Do you wanna have lunch with me?"
Lum: "I have to go to work."
DSK: "You're mean!"
Leaving for work, Lum was filled with as much clarity as he was pride (none of either; he was totally confused and embarrassed) but pleased that he'd won some money with which he could buy some new Dojo equipment.
And I was semi-riveted by the whole episode... and in turn, motivated to create our manifesto, realizing most underground bands wouldn't be caught dead at a karaoke contest in a Korean grocery store. And they would excuse their lack of festivity as a facet of integrity.
And this is just dumb.
Everyone in the world should be caught dead at karaoke contests in all sorts of venues if it affords them the chance to be a disabled kid's ten-second-hero. Life is inherently dull and painful and these moments are interesting enough to be therapeutic.
So why then does it seem like 100% of America's underground bands oppose things like this so uncompromisingly ("as a matter of principle!")?
Obviously it's because each of them is absolutely crippled with insecurity. And this insecurity has them all clinging to the artifice of integrity. And while integrity is largely imaginary, the placebo effect it grants seems to be enhancing their self worth.
So... good for them I guess.
But I still find the whole thing outrageously embarrassing.
And unfortunately, I've also found that this embarrassment doesn't stop with them. Their silly fixation on fake integrity has permeated the entire underground scene (of which we - the good people of The Autopilot Dojo - are inescapably a part of).
So our little musical habitat has been completely polluted in the process. And thus there's an unspoken expectation that we should share the same ideals, ethics and attitudes as the rest of our lowly demographic.
It's essentially the musical equivalent of racial profiling.
But we have no interest whatsoever in being a serious band, totally rigid with the trappings of make-believe integrity.
So, as an effort to sanitize our corner of the underground scene, I decided it's time to write The Dojo Manifesto.
Now I realize manifestos - thus far - have not been cast in a particularly beaming light. The contemporary manifesto has been a bit sullied by history's past usage; anti-capitalism, anti-development-into-Kaczynski's-wilderness, etc. It's never "The Jesus Manifesto."
So I hope you're willing to shrug off matters of nomenclature and keep reading. And when you're all done reading, I'm hoping our manifesto will not have likened us to an engrossed scientologist about to represent a peppy blackthlete in an unspeakably dull movie... but instead it will help separate us from the fertile waters of the underground sea (like a clump of dirty oil to the ocean).
I'm pretty sure that last paragraph made very little sense.
Anyway, The Dojo Manifesto will be divided it into topical sections. That way, when you get bored of one subject, you can skip to another that might be more arresting (or at least enticing in its title).
And at the end, our catalog of vows shall be laid bare before you......... We begin:
SECTION 1.1: Success.
By success, I mean failure. Our Manifesto Pledge is that we shall remain forever bound to the unrisable underground tide that birthed us.
This pledge has nothing to do with the three of us lacking appreciation for label bands, mainstream music, or success in any facet of the industry. On the contrary, may our applause for these successful folks roar out like an above-ground ocean.
This pledge stems purely from a matter of course. It is our inevitable fate that we shall never graduate from obscurity.
Thus if we pretend like our chronic lack of triumph is somehow totally on purpose, our enduring failure can be chalked up to intention. Thus, success!
SECTION 1.2: Fake success.
Our Manifesto Pledge is that we'll never pretend to be successful when the reality is we're total failures.
I feel this is a particularly important pledge when taking into consideration this completely accurate statistic: 100% of all underground bands pretend as though they're ultra huge and popular, when in real life they're not popular at all.
Their dire lack of popularity is evidenced by the fact that they're underground bands.
I feel this is so obvious that it doesn't merit further explanation, but I'm going to explain further anyway, with this:
It is an inherent quality of all underground bands - nay, the very essence of being "underground" - that the bands lack fans.
So it strikes me as weird that all underground bands pretend to be popular. 100% of them do, remember?
But they act on their imaginations with varying levels of determination. The more determined liars have a MySpace music page in which they've given themselves 50,000 page views by holding down the f5 key for prolonged periods.
Giving themselves 50,000 song plays though... that one's tricky. And it can cost a few dollars (upwards of twenty)... but it's money well spent in order to secure the believability of the lie to all eleven real viewers who will stumble upon their page in the future.
And perhaps this works. Perhaps there's an enticing quality to a band that appears to be popular. And perhaps when people listen to a band they perceive as popular, they do so with an inclination to appreciate their songs. But even if all of this is true, and fake success does lead to real success, I still feel hugely embarrassed for the bands that do it (because clearly they're not embarrassed enough for themselves).
SECTION 1.3: False summits.
"We got a song on local radio!" or "our songs are totally better than what's on the radio" or "we're getting tons of MySpace traffic" or "we have plenty of time; Jack Johnson was like thirty-five when he got famous." Etc.
Speaking sentences like these (or their countless cousins) confirms that you're being deceived by false summits. And the encouragement granted wears off pretty quickly when you mount one and realize you aren't any closer to having "made it."
Our Manifesto Pledge is that we shall avoid hiking altogether. These boots are made for apathy.
SECTION 1.4: Measuring success.
This section is very loosely about measuring success. More than that, it's about pointing out the difference between eccentric artists and weird failures.
The difference between eccentric artists and weird failures: money.
There is a fiscal threshold one must cross before personal oddities become interesting, appreciated, and perhaps even mimicked by impressionable adolescents. Beneath that threshold, the person just appears to have obvious physical manifestations of a huge cast of disabling qualities.
Out of the 100% of underground bands that are pretending to be successful, 85% are also pretending to be eccentric artists. These people are really embarrassing. The other 15% are only pretty embarrassing.
What each of these would-be musicians should be focusing on is writing good music. And if the product of that effort is arresting enough, it might capture an audience. It probably won't, but it's not outside of the broadest rim of possibility.
Contrarily, spending energy to put on a personality show absolutely won't work. Nobody in the world is interested in the social handicaps that render you a misfit. Personalities are only interesting when they belong to famous people. And fame isn't achieved with a display of awkwardness. That's only interesting once atop the pedestal.
Our Manifesto Pledge is to keep our handicaps to ourselves.
SECTION 2.1: Band management, skull logos, and Tom Petty.
I'm getting really tired of skull logos. Every metal band that has a flamboyant webpage (a.k.a. MySpace profile) also has a penchant for the human skull.
My hunch is that not one of these people knows what a real human skull actually looks like.
After my formative years spent studying with the Elders, I went on to acquire a Bachelor's and then a Master's... at the oldest university on the west coast, and the oldest private university in California (respectively; both in Sports Medicine). Then I packed up some shirts and traded in my minstrel toolbox (guitar) for a plane ticket, knives and pills. The ticket flew me to Africa and the knives and pills assisted me as a Cameroonian physician and surgeon. After not being very good at that (I let tons of mosquitoes fly into tons of open incisions), I returned to my regular continent, but this time to the opposite coast, where I began my Ph.D. at the top ranked doctoral kinesiology program in America. And this is where I currently reside (and study). And in my study, life has afforded me more hours of rubbing all up in the insides of mostly-dead people's heads with my fingers than the entirety of all unbathed death metallians have spent looking (admiringly) at their own logos. Combined.
I particularly enjoy rubbing the clivus.
And my years of clivus rubbing have given me a very keen awareness of the bony landscape of the skull.
And never once have I ever seen an interesting skull logo. Not a single one. It would be way more interesting if - instead of skulls - you used cabbages. Way more interesting. But at this point, virtually everything would be better than skulls. So please stop using them in your logos.
And please note that I'm also tired of the sentence I always find just south of this logo.
The one that gives me instructions on how to contact your band's manager.
Look, we all realize you're a really unsuccessful, totally unsigned band with no fans whatsoever and nothing to suggest future prosperity.
Your huge list of MySpace friends are not fans of your music. You're not fooling anybody. 90% of them are other bands trying to do the exact same thing you're doing. And the other 10% is comprised mostly of underground, unfunny comedians trying to do the same thing. The few "friends" that aren't trying to pad their own friend lists are poor idiots you've solicited who succumb at a rate of one out of every thousand requests. And these people don't listen to your music. They just didn't have the heart to deny you because you wrote them a little "personal" note with the request (which you copied and pasted to the other 10,000 as well, but they weren't fooled by it).
Knowing this (for an absolute fact), what could possibly precipitate the need for your band to have a manager?
Every few weeks, I contact such a band manager to find out. Sometimes I get the drummer, but it's usually the bass player.
Most of these musicians are young and ignorant to the tacit laws of self actualization. And thus I excuse their cringe-inducing idiocy.
But I fear this excuse will just enable them to adopt the 80s-metal school of thought and grow into fifty-year-olds who never gave up the embarrassment of their adolescence. They'll still refer to a band mate as a manager on a skull-clad website while sullying Shure microphones with poorly written lyrics about teenage angst.
This is weird. And it's really undignified. And it depresses me on behalf of humanity that I share biological similarities with these people.
I think we - as a species - should all take a minute to evaluate what Tom Petty does right.
I don't care if you don't like his music. You don't have to. But you do have to recognize that the songs he writes now are no different from the songs he was writing at the start of his career... and at no point in his career has it sounded unnatural. He picked a music style that's suitable for all ages (pleasing melodies with acceptable lyrics) and has pursued that style ever since.
And obviously he's not the only musician doing this. He's just a good example. And all the unmentioned musicians who follow this example are deserving of exactly as much praise.
Deserving of shame is what MySpace bands do: succumb to a perpetual shift of identity based on current radio trends.
The fact that Tom Petty doesn't subscribe to a shifty identity does not mean that the opposite is true however; that all his songs sound the exact same. That would be a bit less laudable if it were the case.
Like all musicians, he needs a certain dose of variety lest he submit to a paralyzing - perhaps even career-ending - boredom. But in tackling variety, he's not out there constantly trying to reinvent himself in order to fit the passing whims of fashion. His core style (pleasing melodies with acceptable lyrics) has never been breached.
So while I'm applauding this, I shall write this section's Manifesto Pledge. It comes threefold, as follows:
We will never Photoshop a skull drawing. We'll never have a band manager. And we'll try to adhere to the tacit law of self actualization (such that we mature with dignity comparable to Tom Petty's). That's all. Next.
SECTION 2.2: When musicianship does change.
It's not inherently bad when a musician changes styles. Still using Tom Petty as our example, if he decided to put aside the swampy heartland rock roots and release a jazz album, he shouldn't automatically be chastised for it.
Especially if the album was an interpretation of some little known pieces from his earlier work. Most jazz music wasn't originally written for jazz anyway; it's usually a bunch of compositions that were supposed to be for something else, but didn't really go anywhere. So jazz musicians just interpret it in an interesting (aka jazzy) way. And if Tom Petty did that to a handful of his earlier songs, it might be interesting. I would certainly be eager to dedicate fifty minutes of my life listening to it.
And if I liked it (perhaps if each song had a catchy head that I could hum along with during four choruses of pleasing solos and hi-hat magic) I'd probably dedicate several more fifty-minute blocks of time to it. And if I didn't like it, I'd trust that he had another album coming before too long that I would like.
And if that next album was blues (which I consider blues to be a song rather than a genre), I'd dedicate fifty more minutes of my life to hearing it. And if I didn't like it, I'd trust his next album would be enjoyable. I'd trust this because he's already proven himself with a vast catalog of songs I've enjoyed in the past.
Contrary to that, if Tom Petty decided to do nothing more than chase fashion, I'd be pretty disappointed. Mostly because the music would be totally soulless. And odds are I couldn't be bothered to dedicate fifty minutes to it. But in all my disappointment, I'd never turn on him. I'd still be a fan, for - as I mentioned earlier - he's already proven himself with years of music that I enjoy. So if he makes an album I dislike, that album in no way erases the long history of music I've found pleasing.
There seem to be very few music listeners who share this attitude though. Recall what happened when Dylan went electric (i.e. his fans all turned on him).
This is just weird.
The second he plugs his guitar into an amp, the once-upon-a-time-Dylan-fans are so deeply wounded, they cannot possibly bring themselves to forgive him. Killing the children of his fans would have been no more visceral a blow.
The fact that he gave them years and years of sentimental music beforehand is irrelevant. The first grungy sputter from his amp erased it all; every fond memory vanished to the bitter aftertaste of unforgivable betrayal.
This is really, really, really, really, really, really weird.
Even things like that Kobe Bryant incident several years back are weird to me though. He does something sexually offensive and thereafter people refuse to watch him play basketball.
I can't bring myself to watch stadium sports in the first place because I find them uninteresting. But if I did carry some appreciation for watching people I don't know manipulate balls for points, an episode like this wouldn't change my viewing experience. It's not like he's going to sexually assault a cheerleader in the middle of the game. He's going to go play basketball. Nothing has changed. But the fans have all turned on him. It's just weird.
If humanity could learn to sectionalize appreciation, I think everyone alive would feel less pressured in their daily existence. And the result of that would be people being less disposed to die of cancer. Or at least less disposed to acquire a lot of ulcers.
And that brings us to this section's Manifesto Pledge. This: while not chasing fashion whims, we'll probably play a little jazz now and again. And while not sexually assaulting anyone, we'll probably find ourselves in various episodes of trouble (due to an unquenchable appetite for inappropriate merriment).
If we had fans that were constantly on the brink of turning on us (we don't have fans at all), I'd regard these people as really weird and would prefer they weren't in our lives to begin with (only because they would increase our risk of cancer while curbing the giggle that might have otherwise ensued).
SECTION 3.1: Selling out.
Whether or not we appreciate their music, we generally support all bands that sell out. By that same token, we (ourselves) are not above selling out.
You know who else isn't above selling out? Every single band you've ever listened to ever in your entire life. Since birth. Ever.
When people recruit the "we refuse to sell out" slogan, they're using it as an excuse for why they're totally unsuccessful.
This is true 100% of the time. There is nothing even remotely debatable about this.
In the course of human history, there has never been a single instance where opposition to selling out was something other than an image-defining excuse for failure.
Do you know what selling out is? It's writing songs people like. And then letting people hear them.
That's what selling out is. When you write a song that the proverbial mainstream approves of, and then let that song reach mainstream ears on various modes of travel (radio, television, movies, etc), you've sold out.
Selling out rarely has anything to do with chasing trends. That's just embarrassing. And it's an embarrassment reserved for the success-less MySpace generation. The sell-out is something altogether different, as it implies some dose of triumph. Not only is there a correlation to success, but often it's the very ticket to success. And it requires a lot of talent. And if you pay attention, you'll find a direct linear relationship where the more a band is opposed to selling out, the less talent that band has, and thus the more energy that band puts into faking their own success.
This is just weird. Especially the faking part. Think about it: they're pretending to be a band that writes songs that people like and listen to, but at that same time, they're voicing their opposition to being a band that writes songs that people like and listen to.
Wow. Seriously, wow. These people are unquestionably retarded. It would be difficult for me to phrase that more delicately.
With us, no excuses. We've given you exactly two years of subpar music and no slogans attached to it as if to dignify our failure as righteous.
And our Manifesto Pledge is that we shall continue to give you subpar music devoid of counterfeit righteousness. Forever (in the ephemeral sense... meaning not really forever at all).
SECTION 3.2: Integrity.
Integrity is the parent excuse of "we refuse to sell out."
It is a multifaceted catch-all slogan that includes the 'sell-out' excuse, but also stretches much further into the pretext of failure. It is the spoken umbrella that shields all weathers. And it is gripped tightly by virtually every underground band in the world so that they can play off failure as if it were sought from the get-go.
There are very few things more boring in the history of the world than a band that clings to the notion of integrity.
Actually, I can only think of one. This: a band that has integrity. While rare to the point of urban legendship, if spotted in real life, it would certainly be a very boring sight. As far as I'm concerned, life itself doesn't inherently contain any value. And living straight as an arrow (still tucked neatly in its quiver) is way too dull of an existence to render the continuation of that existence worth its endurance. That's why our arrows were doing arabesques before they were even fired. Life is more bearable that way. So for your sake, go live a little. Have some fun.
And while having fun, try not to lie so much about how upstanding you are. As far as the spoken word goes, integrity-themed sentences represent the second dullest cliche that can possibly spill from a musician's herpes-lips.
"What's the most dull sentence?"
Thank you, reader, for caring so deeply about our manifesto. The dullest sentence is this: "we don't care what people think of us."
Unfortunately, this assertion is not strictly employed by underground bands, but has found an expulsion from the mouths of virtually every "artist" in the world.
And I find it weird.
And to all those who've spoken it, I have a suggestion: instead of degrading your listeners verbally, why don't you just spit in their faces? That strikes me as the same thing. Exactly as offensive, but swifter in its execution. It's a win-win situation.
Seriously though, how can anyone bear no regard for their listeners, publicly state that, and then expect people to keep listening? This is insane.
Luckily, whenever anyone says "I don't care what people think of me", they're lying. Phewf (on behalf of music listeners everywhere).
The only reason anyone recruits this cliche-lie is in attempt to create the image of "I'm the person who doesn't care what people think of him", thus, by definition, caring deeply what people think. Otherwise, why go through all the trouble trying to create the image?
These people are clearly idiots. And they shouldn't be allowed to speak. But unfortunately speech has no such conditions of exclusion. So we have to learn to appreciate the comedic value this demographic offers.
And I assure you the comedic value they offer doesn't stop here. Following the "I don't care what people think" slogan, listen to what else they have to say. After a brief detour to integrity, they all - almost mechanically - begin their diatribe of the music industry.
And underground bands talking about music industry is beyond silly. Can we agree on this?
There's nothing the music industry has ever done to keep you down, underground band of America. You're just complaining about it in order to uphold another element of your image ("we're the band that doesn't conform!").
And if you had even the slightest capacity to think critically about what it is you're saying, you'd realize all you're doing is conforming to the anti-corporate image, when it truly has nothing to do with you. Thus revealing an even deeper concern for what people think about you. That's why you're lying to everyone in order to create a fake image... because you care enough to put forth all that energy to do so.
Manifesto Pledge: we promise to never say anything so dull and untrue as "we stand for integrity" or "we don't care what people think about us."
We promise to never say either of these sentences. And instead, we'll march onward, unbound by the standard moral codes, lugging our music to a handful of listeners whom we don't pretend to not care about.
SECTION 3.3: Originality.
The bands that suck the most are the ones that struggle the hardest to sound original.
My hope is that this irrefutable truth will become so commonly known that it's rendered a cliche as tedious as those mentioned in the previous section.
And then, once it's among that commonest wedge of knowledge, I will never again be subjected to the dire output of a musician trying desperately to carve out a new genre of music.
Can we take a moment to examine how people spend their time while angling to be celebrated as musical innovators? Let's. Let's take that moment.
These people spend a huge percentage of their lives doing this: "we're working on our sound."
Oh. Does your band have guitar, vocals, bass, and drums?
"No, but we still have a totally unique sound. It's like nothing you’ve ever heard."
Okay. A) This isn't even approaching being believable. And B) even if you did have a totally original sound, that doesn't make it good. In fact, it almost guarantees that it would be terrible.
There's nothing unique about tonal consonance. It just sounds good. Like a perfect fifth (i.e. seven half steps up). It's both pleasing to the brain, and a standard formula in music composition.
Trying to make music out of pure never-resolved dissonance is unique though. Every note is played with the tritone (i.e. cutting the octave in half)! Definitely a new genre.
Or, this one would take some planning, but ensuring that no two notes vibrate the air in ratios that can be broken down into simple fractions. Also completely unique. The perfect fifth is 3/2... the perfect fourth is 4/3. Both of those are out (fuck you Pythagoras! Only mathematically-unlikable sounds are allowed here!). And (unless you work miracles with the major sixth or minor third), it'll sound just as terrible (but it's like nothing you've ever heard on the radio!).
The brain stem picks up on shitty (i.e. totally unique) music (like dissonant chords with uncountable timing, etc) before the cortex gets its shot at interpreting its sound. This is your basic unevolved brain function letting you know it's bad music before you even attempt to interpret it.
So instead of struggling to be totally unorthodox in your songwriting, you should just try to write good melodies and words.
How does one write good melodies? Study music theory. How does one write good words? Read books.
I realize both of those take time, but so does "I'm working on my sound." The difference is studying music theory and reading books is helpful.
Music is not inherently spiritual and touching. It's a craft, not unlike cooking or being a librarian, or any other job in the history of the world. They're all just crafts. And if you work fewer than forty hours per week at any of them, it's really hard to succeed.
You might be able to pull off a job at Wendy's while dedicating only twenty hours per week to it, but certainly not music.
Compare the demands of a Wendy's cashier to those of a musician. Which profession is more competitive?
Obviously being a rock star is among the most competitive jobs in the world. Millions of MySpace bands are naively racing toward the same dozen openings in the department of rock icon. You can hardly say that about the local Wendy's.
And I guarantee you're not going to succeed at Wendy's working fewer than twenty hours per week.
So sitting around "working on your sound" seems like a pretty ridiculous waste of the precious hours required to make it in the music industry.
Even if it wasn't, every band that does this sounds the exact same. It's a bunch of distorted made-up chords with some lead riffs that go nowhere and intervals of poorly written lyrics, sung in whatever style the whim of fashion is flapping through in its passing.
And then comes the real punch-line: among their influences, these bands almost always list Led Zeppelin, revealing that the band members haven't even bothered to listen to the music of their "influences."
"How do you know that?"
Because Led Zeppelin's catalog consisted largely of mellow, often acoustic well-composed, totally discernible melodies. Their songs were the direct product of studying music theory and reading books (albeit Lord of the Rings, but at least it's something).
Comparatively, these MySpace bands are the literal opposites of Led Zeppelin. Their awareness of music other than their own is shameful. It's beyond shameful actually. So shameful that I refuse to acknowledge them further.
Instead, I'm going to acknowledge the underground rock bands that don't list Led Zeppelin among their influences. These bands tend to describe their influences as something to the effect of "everything in life" or "my dreams." No combination of words has ever induced a more powerful cringe.
Message to crappy, embarrassing bands: among the reading I suggest you begin, go ahead and start with interviews and biographies of the musicians who became icons and defined genres.
Bach to The Beatles, Hendrix to Hayes and so on. None of these people wasted a minute "working on their sound" in an effort to change the world of music.
All of them spent an exorbitant amount of time working on melodies though (in accordance with totally orthodox techniques practiced by all educated musicians). That and they spent a lot of time doing other totally orthodox things, like practicing scales. And they were happy to do this because it allowed them to be employed by the music industry... and this is what was required of them. Which in turn renders them the quintessential "sell-outs" in the history of music.
In consideration of this, the Manifesto Pledge of this section is that we shall never struggle for novelty. Nor will we put in the hours to succeed, but the hours we do dedicate will definitely be the product of our selling out to the orthodox study of music.
SECTION 3.4: Acceptable versus unacceptable novelty.
I feel I need to balance the previous section's diatribe with this: having a sound that's both novel and pleasing is entirely possible.
It's just impossible that it will ever come from the amps of an overeager MySpace band. Achieving that sound (the one that's simultaneously unique and enjoyable) requires a comprehensive understanding of music theory, which in turn requires a lot of hours spent in study... and this is a very cerebral rite of passage (not cerebral in a "skull-logo" kind of way). Thus I don't see a lot of MySpace bands at the graduating end of that passage.
Instead, I see them looking at a Picasso and saying things like "I could do that."
No you can't.
I promise you can't. Because Picasso didn't start his career with plumpy hexagons. He endured an extensive gestative period in which he mastered the fundamentals of every form before he birthed anything novel. And at the end of that really long birth canal, he was able to midwife out a novelty: cubism.
But cubism was conceived from the very loins of his research. It didn't come from cutting corners toward novelty or sitting around thinking about a totally unique approach ("I'm working on my style").
It came from study.
It doesn't matter what it is. Music, art, carpentry, medicine, anything. If you don't master the fundamentals, anything novel you come up with is just going to be bad.
(For more on this subject, please refer to The Virgin Bulletin)...
When it comes to music, starting with novelty is as embarrassing for the musician as it is painful for the listener (hugely and excruciating respectively). But in the contemporary trend, that seems to be the standard approach.
And this is a disgrace - violating at best - to the entire species. It shows a profound lack of awareness for how the brain comprehends music.
Granted, the brain's ability to understand music appears to be nothing more than an evolutionary mishap, but it's an extremely precious mishap that should be appreciated... and in turn studied. It should never be abused just because it's convenient to do so.
Sitting in a Walmart lobby on Black Friday offers a collection of sounds. So do those cassette tapes that have a recording of a dying animal that people use to lure animals while hunting.
But nobody would argue that either of those is musical.
And if I'm going to be subjected to a collection of sounds, I want them to be musical. I'm at the end of a long line of evolution, with a really advanced auditory system, and that gives me high expectations for music... because music is pleasing. Sounds aren't automatically music. Music is a very specific composition of vibrations.
Whenever anything does anything, it vibrates little particles. This causes molecules in the atmosphere to vibrate. This is not sound. These are waves. Your ears interpret these waves and then your brain makes up a sound for you to perceive and associate with that type of particle vibration.
This is not unlike what a radio does to electromagnetic radiation. These electromagnetic waves are not sound. They're waves. The radio then takes them and converts them into waves that can be interpreted by your ears. Your ears, upon interpreting those new waves, transform them into signals your brain perceives as sound. Does that make sense? Thus answers the proverbial tree falling in the forest question. No, it absolutely does not make sound. It vibrates particles. This has nothing to do with sound unless an ear exists to radio those vibrations into a sound.
Now, having said that, it's helpful for our survival if we're really in touch with those vibrations because of the existence of things like nighttime and trees and conjunctivitis. These things can obstruct our ability to see (i.e. interpret other wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation).
It would obviously have been very hard for us to survive if we went through the Paleolithic era deaf or blind. A buffalo creates an entirely different cast of waves than does a lion, both visually and audibly. And when there's an obstruction between the animal and your eyes, you have to rely on your ears. Consequently a creature that can differentiate between prey and predators without seeing them is a lot more equipped for survival. Darwinian evolution thus provides us with a fairly advanced system of interpreting these vibrations, which, again, we perceive as sounds.
And then - on top of that - you have to be able to interpret multiple waves at once and recognize them as multiple waves. Because what happens if the buffalo and lion are both doing some throaty yowl at the same time? You don't think "oh it's a weird hybrid animal thing. I want to see what it looks like!" Instead, you (obviously) interpret them as two different animals making a similar sound at the same time.
This is why when two instruments play the same note, you don't assume it's an instrument you've never heard before. A flute and an oboe playing the same note doesn't sound like some newfangled crazy thing. It sounds like a flute and an oboe playing the same note (this has more to do with flux and attack than the profile of overtones... you can look this up for yourself).
It's helpful in terms of survival if your brain can figure it out when more than one thing is happening at once. If you're being chased by a bear, this whole scene is going to stir up a lot of motion of objects. And the product of that is an atmosphere that's erupting in all sorts of vibrations. And in order to survive, you have to be able to isolate the vibrations coming from the bear. If you can't, the vibrations will just confuse you to death (death via bear).
So your ears are pretty intricate little radios for making sense of the whole ensemble of existence.
That and language has a huge impact on sexual selection. And part of the propagation of any species is going to be sexual selection. That's perhaps the most powerful element of Darwinian evolution right there. The point is language matters. And it takes a lot of brain power to produce and comprehend language; all the annunciations and inflections and such. And Darwin proposed that singing notes developed as a component of mating rituals prior to the birth of actual language. Science still backs this assertion, so obviously those with the best vocal pipes would have implanted their semen into the hosts with the greatest appreciation for throaty music. It all plays in.
As does rhythm play in. The cerebellum and motor cortex are responsible for the various cadences. Walking or jogging in a steady rhythm is a lot more efficient (in terms of the caloric price tag and general muscle fatigue) than flailing around out of time. So there's a survival component to rhythm. And musical rhythm seems to have simply piggybacked on the evolution of this department.
Ultimately, when it all comes together, you have structures all over in your brain that work in harmony to process and interpret sounds and feel the beats and such. And there are pleasure centers connected to them in order to reward their use (because their use enhances the chance of survival and propagation of the species). Music activates pleasure centers, such as those meant for language (which are supposed to encourage the development and various capacities of interaction).
Intelligence has a survival value just as physical capacities do. Being born with giant teeth... being able to invent the bullet. Both help determine ranking in the food chain, but so far, the brain has earned more victory laps. And the pleasure centers exist to enjoy this lap. And music just happens to trigger numerous centers at once, exploiting them all simultaneously for the greatest reward.
Basically it's just masturbation; there's no purpose for survival, but it exploits the byproducts of a highly evolved biological system in a pleasurable way. But not all sounds stimulate the pleasure centers, evidenced by shrieking babies.
The brain works in such a way that interpretable beats and specific distances between tones results in the pleasure pathways firing, where other tonal discrepancies, and nonmathematical beats, and dissonant chords and such don't result in activation of the pleasure centers.
While elements of this are variable from person to person (depending mostly on exposure in the formative years when the brain is busy mapping neural pathways), there are inherent rules that apply to all human beings. It's no different than the rules of taste. Sugar tastes good. But it doesn't taste good on canned tuna. And it usually tastes good when combined with chocolate and peanut butter, but not to everybody. With some people, "the only time I like eating chocolate and peanut butter together is in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups". While I find this sentence stupid (i.e. the only time you like chocolate with peanut butter is when it's round), it illustrates a degree of individuality, but not so far as to breach the fundamental laws of what tastes good and what doesn't.
With music, the best summary I can give is that spending thousands of hours studying music theory results in the awareness of what notes and beats taste best together. And without having endured those thousands of hours as a rite of passage, you're not going to be a good musical chef. I promise.
The musicians that are at the graduating end of that passage (i.e. not MySpace bands) spend a lot of their post-passage hours focusing on achieving a novel tonal color (aka timbre) while very delicately violating musical expectations in rhythm or some sort of cadent play after adhering to the listener's expectations rigorously enough (and for long enough) that the listener's brain (particularly the prefrontal cortex) can be caught unexpectedly in a way that's pleasantly surprising.
Maybe they'll slur the riff that's been staccato all along. Or switch it to a chromatic sequence when the brain demands it be diatonic. Or hush the volume when the expectation is a climax, muting the strings and dead-stroking the percussion as it builds. Or they could thin the variance of overtones when the listener expects a full sound. Or work on varying the amount of dissonance and resolving it in novel ways. Or build tension by some other means entirely. Maybe even pull a Mahler's 5th and switch keys in the middle of a song. The point is, there are a lot of ways to violate expectations in the musical toolbox. And a real musician can do this perfectly with a very delicate twist of the tonal wrench.
MySpace bands (on the other, less talented hand) try to violate all musical expectations all the time (without any real awareness of what it is they're actually violating) in order to achieve something novel. This sounds awful. Just bloody awful. This is peanut butter and ketchup. The prefrontal cortex - as a rule in all humanity - literally hates it. And before it even gets to the cortex, the brain stem tells you that there is nothing musical about it. It's a built-in gesture of your brain that shouldn't be undervalued.
Thus, when my brain stem warns me about a song (as it does with the majority of the MySpace catalog), I value its opinion. And I take it to mean that the song's author knows nothing of music theory (e.g. proper note sequences, countable timing, etc).
"No, I just don't want to conform to a bunch of corporate rules that tell me everything I can and can't play! I'd rather keep my soul; be one with music."
Okay, in the modified words of Woody Allen, you're two with music. You don't actually understand it at all, which is why your songs are so bad. It has nothing to do with corporations; it's purely a matter of comprehension.
And pretending like you're writing the way you are on purpose is a bit embarrassing. It's like when people pretend Native Americans used to live in tipis because of how much they loved nature.
Obviously this is untrue; it's just because they didn't know how to build anything else. If they did, Chesapeake Bay would have been littered with giant, pompous mansions when the English showed up. Or at least a couple castles. But instead, it was just a bunch of half-naked people walking around with sticks.
And that's what you're doing when you don't write music according to theory. You're walking around with sticks, pretending you don't want the castle.
But you want the castle. There's no lie you could possibly come up with that will ever convince anyone who will ever be born that you don't want this.
The only difference between you and the native ancestors is that you actually have access to modes of education (things like libraries). So your failure is extra embarrassing.
Manifesto Pledge: while erecting our modest, wigwam-sized castle, we might play around with timbre now and again. Maybe we'll occasionally play with a beat. But for the most part, we're just playing. It's a game to us. And we're not spending a lot of time sitting around devising ways to pleasantly violate musical expectations. But we pledge to never shoot for a genre-defining underground novelty that ultimately sounds no more pleasing than Walmart on Black Friday.
SECTION 3.5: Disclaimers and expanded notes.
The earlier entries of Section 3 described music as a craft, demanding only of study and practice. While this is true, I am in no way implying that music should be a cold exercise of mechanics; uninspired and artless.
In the words of Tchaikovsky (while discussing lessons learned from Tolstoy), "The artist who works not from inner inspiration but with careful calculation of effect, who forces his talent with the idea of pleasing the public, is not quite an artist, his works will not endure, his success will be ephemeral."
The fact that both Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky left a body of work that is more famous now than it was at its induction obviously adds weight to the proposition that inspiration is more important than calculation.
Having said that however, Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy were simply inspired to calculate. They're both famous for studying their art furiously, playing by the exact rules I described in Section 3 (with no missteps), where grand inspirations prompt deep calculations.
So while it's true that inspired music is often better than that crafted by rule, this only applies to people who are at least familiar with all the rules.
Take the Petersburg Nationalists for example. Balakirev and Borodin and such. These were a group of Russians who broke away from the rules in order to craft music purely on inspiration. And while this seems anarchically romantic, the problem is that each of them knew exactly what it was they were breaking away from. They didn't break from something they didn't understand.
Study first. Learn. Then break. That's how inspired music becomes beautiful. There are no Picasso squiggles for the amateurs. The most sentimental, powerful work will always result from inspiration being wed to mechanics; passion to calculation. The child of that marriage is the only real art that isn't fated to pass as an agent of pop culture ephemera.
Manifesto Pledge: I am inspired on matters of verse. Lum is inspired on matters of left hand. Rorik Seehorn is inspired on matters of right hand and throat. Together we (calculatedly) combine our inspirations. Anything less than this would be an insult to you, asking that you spend your time listening when we did not spend time enough arranging. Thus we pledge to never make uninspired music just as we pledge to always calculate its production.
SECTION 4.1: Sex and drugs.
In accordance with the various truths described in section 3, sex and drugs do nothing more than monopolize hours. And because success demands a lot of hours, underground bands that cling to the sex and drugs image will never have time enough to achieve anything beyond fake fans of their bad songs.
By wasting time in the pursuit of drugs and/or the display of its image, they're doing themselves no favors in acquiring familiarity for the craft of music. It's obvious all these people know is what they've seen on TV. And what they've seen on TV is fake.
Major label bands that adhere to the sex and drugs image aren't actually living the sex and drugs life. Not unless their career is over. If it's not over, they're in the process of ending it. And even at the height of this process, the amount of drugs they're doing is actually negligible. Evidence: rock stars at all levels live to be like a hundred years old. A handful of them died at twenty-seven. The rest just live these long drawn out, completely tedious lives.
Compare the long, dull life of a rock star (the real life, not the imaginary one you see on TV) to that of a jazz musician. Jazz musicians traditionally die quite young because they actually managed to consume all the drugs and alcohol rock stars pretend to (especially the bass players; even compared to their jazzing band mates, bass players seem to fare quite badly).
That raises the question: where do jazz musicians find the time to do this? Answer: they spend literally no time massaging their image to be the junkie band. Upholding an image is a big commitment. It's among the greatest thieves of time. And jazz musicians can't be bothered. They spend those hours in study and in chemical euphoria. And they never sit around "working on their sound." And they rarely work full time minimum wage jobs (like fake-popular MySpace band members do). When jazz musicians aren't performing, they're either doing drugs or studying music. And then they die.
Opposite that, rock is a demographic full of (and defined by) uneducated hacks who fake everything. Literally everything.
Manifesto Pledge: while faking nothing, we won't put in the hours to succeed. Drugs and alcohol definitely play their fair role, but we're no jazz musicians in terms of ingestion and we certainly aren't going to waste our time caressing such an image out of make believe.
SECTION 5.1: Self-proclaimed artists.
While it seems obvious, I feel this is somehow something I need to announce: artistry isn't a birthright. People don't organically inherit the title of "artist" in a package deal with opposable thumbs. I realize the human hand is quite conducive to musicianship. But this is not art. It's a convenience. Please do not carry yourself as if the truth is otherwise, underground musicians everywhere.
And now a message to underground music listeners everywhere... Here's how to spot a self-proclaimed artist: if not performing solo, he will at least be the singer in the worst acoustic songs you've ever heard.
And the most off-putting quality of these songs is not their painful chord progressions, but the way that singer tries to layer the entire song in vocals. He will literally try to cover every piece of instrumentation with his voice. No gaps. Breathing is actually a burden.
Now I realize this person feels very passionate about the music he's writing. But, in the words of Oscar Wilde, "it is a mistake to think that the passion one feels in creation is ever really shown in the work it creates."
The point: nobody else is feeling it, artist. Nobody. So just stop. Please.
SECTION 5.2: Taking criticism.
Among all breeds of "artist", musicians are the worst recipients of criticism. Take the artless chap who played the protagonist in section 5.1 for example. If any sentence were spoken to him that wasn't loudly championing his work, there would be an incredible bitterness with which it was received... and thereafter ignored.
In music, criticism of the product is an act of anti-patriotism to the person that created it. And this is unfortunate, because that defensiveness thwarts improvement.
These people would rather hear no feedback at all, confusing that silence as a mark of praise. But it's not praise. I promise it's not. It's a mark of indifference. And if all you can conjure in your listeners is indifference, maybe you should quit. Either that, or you should begin greeting even the harshest criticism hospitably.
Our Manifesto Pledge is thus to appreciate that the delivery of criticism is actually a helpful gesture. Not always. Sometimes it can just be mean spirited. But most critiques have the possibility of being helpful. And our pledge ensures that we'll graciously recognize that possibility in every attack.
SECTION 6.1: Music in the past, present, and future.
The music of yesteryear was better than today's. I don't say this longingly, but factually. To say it longingly would be to suggest that the score of my youth carries a sentiment the current's does not. While this is absolutely the case, that's hardly irrefutable evidence of a disparity in quality. It's just a ruling of judgment clouded by nostalgia. The irrefutable evidence is this: once upon a time, every song the public listened to was written and recorded by a musician. Today, the public writes all the songs and nobody listens.
Sometimes people hear them, but not on purpose. And they're certainly not listening. At best, they hear it passively. But typically it's a matter of forcible subjection by the relentless MySpacers.
However, should the course of life and its anthems ever return an age in which songs are written and recorded by musicians, the score of the future young's youth may carry a sentiment that the current's does not. And perhaps better than mine. In the mean time, yesteryear had better music.
SECTION 7.1: Playing live shows.
We don't play live shows.
It just seems silly for an underground band as tiny as us to play shows at all. What would it accomplish? I would rather the three of us (the good people of The Autopilot Dojo) spent that time downtown urban camping. Or writing notes on scratch paper that say things like "I was spanking my child on the hood of your car and it looks like I may have rendered justice a little too violently and his teeth scratched your paint. Sorry about that." Or "I threw a rock at a squirrel but it ricocheted and hit your car. I hope you're not mad at me." And then tucking these notes under windshield wipers and watching as people find them and angrily inspect their cars. This is what we do instead of playing shows, and I can tell you, it's really rewarding. We get much more personal satisfaction out of it.
But if we ever do play shows - like should we get tired of ruining people's afternoons as a joke, our live performances will come packaged with some vows. Mostly just one vow (the Manifesto Pledge of this section). This: we promise to be brief in our performance.
I watched an underground band play at the Coffee House Cafe recently (in Salem, Oregon). The band's name was something about a seahorse. I don't remember. What I do remember is that every single song they played was six minutes long and repeated the chorus upwards of eight times. They even repeated the verses. This is totally unacceptable. The one time it's even borderline excusable is if you're famous and the song you're singing is also famous and everyone in the audience wants to sing along (Ziggy Stardust maybe... maybe).
Then you can play the chorus a third time - maybe a fourth - just for the sing-a-long opportunity.
But it doesn't matter how famous you are, nobody should repeat a verse. To bring further detail to our Manifesto Pledge, we'll never repeat choruses an absurd amount of times or a verse ever (except in cheap demos posted on the site where we haven't written the words yet so we're just repeating something to mark spaces). Two minutes and fifty seconds. That's the per-track live cut-off.
(For more on the subject of The Autopilot Dojo in live shows, please refer to The Virgin Bulletin...)
SECTION 7.2: Ending songs.
Once upon a time, all the months' Fridays began with a Dojo gathering. All of them. And each gathering began like a little yuletide for restless minstrels, garnished with eggnog, radishes, and coconut meat; a perfect tasting habitat to rouse our inspirations. And once roused, the plan was to write new songs and rehearse our already-written songs.
But once the radishes were gone, we'd spend the rest of the day not playing music, but making observations about humanity, getting into mischief, and giggling as a trio of oldest friends (who were birthed together from baskets in the everlasting winter).
Then our weekly yuletides were interrupted when I chose to move back to California to briefly duel an opposing dojo. I did. It took three months. Then I came back. And then we started doing our yuletides again.
And in the observation portion of our last gathering, Rorik Seehorn brought up techniques of song closure. Specifically this: some songwriters think it's a good idea to drag out the end of their songs by repeating the chorus over and over. And right when you think it's going to end, instead of ending, they jump up an octave and play through several more rounds of it.
All three of us love R.E.M., but, as Rorik pointed out, they're the guilty authors of the token example of the octave-jump finale (Stand, 1988). All the other songs on the album are wonderful. It's just the ending of this one that's excruciating. It drags the song out to a totally unnecessary length without offering the listener anything new.
Thus comes Manifesto Pledge number one in this section: as a band, we promise to never do this to you, listener. We promise to never add useless time to a song's duration by repeating the chorus in a higher pitch.
Part two of song-ending etiquette involves the fade-out. Anyone who has ever been exposed to the fade-out as a ten year old has attempted to turn up the volume on the stereo at the same rate the studio engineer was turning it down. And it works for a minute, and almost feels like - if the wattage in the equipment were sufficient - it could go on forever. But just then, at the brink of eternity, there's that really jarring moment where the music stops in a very non-musical way (usually in the middle of a note) and the hissing carries on unaffected.
It's just a totally graceless departure and thus a terrible way to end a song. There's nothing less climactic than slowly fading out repetition. Which brings us to the Manifesto Pledge: we will never do that to you, listener. Nor will we end every song with a 1-4-1 or 1-5-1 chord finale, but we definitely promise to end each of them with something meaty (i.e. a note). Or a drum hit. Or maybe a lyric. Something. Anything as long as it offers a palpable dismount.
SECTION 7.3: Hamming up the grandstand.
I've spent a lot of hours in the company of guitar players. A lot. And I've come to appreciate that virtually all of them have a certain disposition in which looking tough is of paramount importance. And I find this a little silly since all they're doing is twiddling their fingers against some strings. If you think about it, it's virtually the same thing – biomechanically – as weaving with a loom.
But I've never seen somebody try to weave like a badass, standing with his feet super far apart while contorting his face into some angry or weighty expression. Never. I've never once seen that.
Perhaps it's because people who weave have more self-actualization than those who play the guitar.
Either way, I would assume (with some amount of confidence) that, if you were to add up the demographics, there are more people who play guitar than play with weft. It just seems believable that this would be the truth.
And a surprising number of people weave if you get down to asking them about it (like I have). So, in consideration, I would estimate that at least one out of every thirty people in the U.S. is a guitar player. They don't necessarily all play well, but at least that many people, when questioned, would respond with something like "yeah I play a little."
And at least one out of every thousand of those people is amazing. At least. It's a fairly conservative estimate that, out of every thousand guitar players, one of them can dazzle listeners with technically challenging picking patterns and/or shredding solos.
What this means is that there are at least ten thousand dazzling guitar players in the U.S. alone.
And all of them have a MySpace account and try to dazzle me with their solos constantly. And it's getting really tiresome.
The "look how good I am" guitar parts are really tedious and overdone. And they're all the same. It's just fast notes that would have an atrocious melody if you were to slow it down enough for the brain to be able to make rational sense of the progression.
Section 3.4 described how the brain comprehends music. When it's somewhat upbeat, the brain has an appreciation for it. There's a cadence the cerebellum can route to the pleasure centers. But when it's totally fast and complex, the brain has no natural appreciation for it. All human beings have an inherent biological distaste for these sounds.
So why do ten thousand (conservatively) U.S. MySpace profiles shove their ultra fast, totally uninteresting and unappealing solos in your face? Because the guitarists are very, very insecure.
They realize 9,999 other guitar players in the U.S. alone can play exactly as well as they can, and obviously they feel threatened by this. So they try to play even faster, more complex parts. And the listeners, in turn (and on an inevitable biological level), dislike these parts even more.
There's no element of showboat guitar playing that is interesting or worth hearing. It's just the annoying byproduct of an insecure twenty-something wasting his finger dexterity.
If I can't hum along to it, odds are I'm going to regard the song as dumb. If I'm going to allow my brain to become invested in music, I want that music to get stuck in my head. I want to be walking down the macaroni isle, pissed that I can't stop humming it. But I don't want to be humming a commercial theme song that's trying to convince me that their macaroni is more delicious than the store brand.
But I do end up humming those little jingles... because the people who write songs for commercials are quite clever and have figured out how to force their songs into everyone's heads.
So let's take a moment to appreciate what the commercial song writers are doing right in comparison to what dexterous soloists are doing wrong.
Beyond the basic evolution of brain function we already discussed earlier, getting a song stuck in your head (i.e. the standard sign of an effective and catchy tune) isn't stuck in your whole head. The song gets stuck in your echoic memory. And your echoic memory only lasts about fifteen seconds. Thirty tops. So unless the song is shorter than that (like a commercial jingle), you're not getting the entire song stuck in your head. Just a piece of it.
And the piece that gets stuck is just the hook. And maybe a few lines after the hook if it's a really effective one. But anything longer than that and it's just not going to get stuck. That's why the hook is so successful and why commercials use songs that are just a hook and nothing more. Complex songs don't get stuck. Ever. They're not grounded in something simple enough to arrest your echoic memory.
Thus brings us to this section's Manifesto Pledge. This: we'll spend far more time on macaroni isle hooks than on showboat solos that do nothing more than plug the chasm of insecurity.
Though might I also add that Lum is among the upper crust of that ten thousand, capable of the most dazzling and pointless solos of any guitarist. But he's not so insecure as to let that result in its constant demonstration (a.k.a. hamming up the grandstand).
SECTION 8.1: Writing lyrics.
Good songs often require a period of maturation in their writing, where the words and melodies work themselves out organically.
But underground musicians aren't usually willing to endure this period. When they're writing a new song, they want it done immediately. Not because they're naturally super greedy, but because they're so excited about their new song, and that level of excitement tends to inspire a certain dose of greed. They want everyone else to hear their new creation immediately... because of how exciting it is.
The problem is new songs are never as exciting to the listener as they are to the writer. And even if they were, newness is an appreciation that wears off quite quickly. And then what do you have left? An immature, second-rate song. To me, that hardly seems worth all the rush. It just seems greedy and lazy. And when they upload the product of their lazy greed to MySpace and begin forging plays, it just seems sad.
"I thought this section was supposed to be about lyrics...?"
It is. Beginning now: in all their rushing, the component of songwriting that suffers the most is often the words. And words require that phase of maturation more than any other component of the song. This is not only to ensure they're being used to say exactly what it is you want to say, but also because that interval offers a chance for the singer to reflect on whether or not what is being said is even worth being sung.
And, should they take advantage of that period of time, I would hope they would be astute enough to emerge from it with the realization that it's usually not worth it. At all.
"Why do you say that?"
Because a) nothing these people can say is of the smallest importance. And b) "I'm going to sing every single one of my songs about me" is the format through which they say it. This would be interesting if the singer had a really interesting life. But I assure you, underground musicians of America, you don't have interesting lives. It is thus an incredible conceit to think that your autobiographical lyrics might somehow be a gripping subject for me, your listener. And that's why I'm not really your listener.
But that's not the only reason I'm not your listener. Even if you do have an interesting life, or you sometimes manage to write off-topic lyrics, the words with which you capture that theme are almost always embarrassing... to the point of a cringe. And there's no greater offense to the auditory capacity (which piggybacked its way into our biology on genetic survival enhancements) than a series of cringe-inducing sentence fragments.
Virtually every lyric ever penned convinces me its author is teetering on illiteracy.
Almost as offensive is when the author of those lyrics then sings them with passion, as if the words are somehow important. But they're not. They're nonsense. And when people confuse nonsensical for inspirational and powerful, I become very, very depressed and need to medicate myself back to mental wellbeing.
I hate meaningless lyrics.
"Yeah but it's an analogy for the meaninglessness of life."
No it is not. It's a lazy lyricist with no control over the English language. If English is not that lyricist's native language, it might be interesting "Take on me" etc. But it's only interesting once.
After that, every song should be written in a way that shows care with the process, and thus respect for the listener. Otherwise, it's just an incredibly rude gesture to subject anyone to it, and especially to the poor fools who are sitting around trying to extract meaning from such a nonsensical heap of ill-conceived words from a borderline illiterate mouth.
Even if you have no control over your native language (it's okay, most people don't), tell me a story. The language doesn't have to reveal thousands of hours of study if you just give me a little plot. That's enough to entertain me.
Today Was a Good Day. Have you heard that song? It's actually horrible. The words are embarrassing and it totally exploits that catchy guitar riff, but it tells me a story:
"Today was a good day"..... Okay, tell me why. Verse: explanation of why today was a good day. Back to chorus: "today was a good day." Give me some more evidence, I'm not yet convinced. Okay, another verse explaining why it was good.
It's nice. It's an entertainment. And thus I don't hate it. Technically I do hate it a little bit, but only because of how dumb the story itself is. Part of Ice Cube's justification for why today was such a good day is that he didn't have to use his AK-47. This suggests that he is ordinarily forced to use it every day (to defend his estate?). I find this a little puzzling considering he also lives with his mom (and she still cooks him breakfast, as the lyrics reveal). Either way, Mr. Cube is telling a story... and that's a redeeming quality for any song.
The same compliments can be given to that Everlast song What It's Like. Again, I don't really like the music or lyrics, but I appreciate the narrative. Same with Harry Chapin's body of work. Except I tend to appreciate all elements of his songs a bit more. Out of the three, he deserves the biggest pat on the back. On his corpse's scapula. It's a figurative pat anyway. A digital figurative pat.
My point is this: if you're not going to approach the literary component of songwriting with care, just write instrumental tracks. There's nothing wrong with that... for in the words Tchaikovsky (who seems to be getting a disproportionate helping of my quotations), "that form of expressing love to which the poets have recourse, is a usurpation of a function belonging wholly to music."
Thus, if you do it right, you might end up expressing more with your music than you would have with the addition of words.
Relevant Manifesto Pledge: if we have no intention of writing meaningful lyrics, we'll give you instrumental tracks. We'll never write a bunch of nonsense (under the guise of a deeper meaning) and sing it like we mean it (and/or spit in your face).
SECTION 9.1: Goal.
The Autopilot Dojo's goal is to churn out the material that all pregnant fifteen year old girls regard as their favorite. That's all.
Not just because that's a tough demographic to impress - and we like a good challenge - but because it offers us a package deal for acquiring lifelong listeners.
Let's start with the fifteen year olds. By the age of twenty, most people's brains have begun to close the neural pathways that determine appreciation in music. Thus seeking an audience of twenty-somethings hardly gives us the same dedication in our listeners (just on a biological level). It would have to be really good music to lasso in that crowd and I'm not sure we're up for that tough of a challenge.
Remember earlier when I was talking about language (Section 3.4)? Well the human being is genetically equipped to speak and comprehend any language. But once you're pretty far into learning a single one, there's no need to maintain the undifferentiated stem-cell-style brain. So it latches onto the course you've chosen and maps neural pathways in that format, closing the other options. Thereafter learning new languages becomes a bit harder.
Music isn't dissimilar. Neural development wraps around whatever styles you're exposed to in your formative years (so long as they're congruent with music theory... nobody's brain is going to map a kinship with the tritone).
Thereafter you lock into your appreciation of styles and artists, etc. Essentially you become fluent in the language of the genres your neurons mapped themselves around. It's what your brain understands. But in all their mapping, they became much more streamlined, making it increasingly difficult to appreciate all the other languages of music you're exposed to thereafter. You just can't listen to it with the same understanding. It's too foreign. And nobody is going to appreciate foreign music with the same fervor.
"So then why don't you want to write songs that appeal to much younger kids?"
Because A) if you get much younger than fifteen, pregnancy rates fall, and B) for the music to stay with you for life, it has to be heard during an emotional time. And the teenage years are way more emotional than the tweenage year and those that precede it.
Let's start with B). Everything (i.e. all stimuli) that happens in conjunction with a hyper emotional sensation is remembered with incredible clarity. The amygdala and neurotransmitters mark these stimuli (the ones experienced during an emotional state) as important, deciding that it must somehow have a bearing on some grander phenomenon (probably survival). So your brain makes it very memorable for you. This is largely good for the continued existence of the species in earlier times.
Fast-forward to modern times and all fifteen year olds are struggling with gigantic identity crises and trying desperately to find bonds in a social setting in which they feel like they belong. This creates a biological environment in which the teenager's emotional state is at the highest point in his and/or her life (sometimes girls and boys share parts - and sometimes it looks like they do, but then it turns out the boy just has a lot of gynocomastia).
This is the opportune time for the amygdala and neurotransmitters to ensure that all stimuli experienced come packaged with really accessible neural pathways that affix context to each stimulus. This way, when that same person is subjected to the same stimulus later in life, the context of her teenage years fires through her neurons as well.
It's called multiple-trace memory. And this time, somehow, that girl remembers her teenage years much more fondly than they actually were at the time. Those years are no longer riddled with the hardships of an insecure, identity-less teen, but instead sacred in their youth. Thus fosters a lifelong appreciation of the music that cultivates that sensation.
Now with the babies in their bellies (the little fetuses all up in their wombs), these kids (who are almost definitely bastards) have the ability to hear too. Not right away, but by month six or so, their brains are equipped to process sound, leaving four good months of potential music exposure.
Granted, their brains aren't really developed enough to separate the sensations of sight and sound (or even touch for that matter) until they're about six months out of the womb. But that doesn't mean they can't hear the music. They just listen like a normal teen would on acid, where they can see the notes and such. And in this experience, research has revealed a tendency for babies to appreciate songs they heard during the later stages of pregnancy. Neural pathways start mapping familiarity quite early it seems.
Thus, the pregnant fifteen-year-old becomes our target demographic on the basis of a two-for-one deal.
The affiliated (and final) Manifesto Pledge: we're going to spend way more time doing things against the grain of integrity than the amount of time we dedicate to songwriting. This way, in the end, our hours will have been spent in the pursuit of giggling as opposed to ulcer-inducing rigidity.
When we watch all the other underground bands, we're saddened on the behalf of their stiff gait toward delusional hopes, clinging to unwarranted beliefs that they're going to become famous. We have no intention of putting in the sixty hour work weeks it would take to earn a living as a band (let alone be famous), have no intention of dedicating the effort necessary to fabricate our image, and if, at some point in the process, a pregnant fifteen year old girl appreciates our music, we'll feel like we've accomplished what we set out to do.
Thus concludes The Dojo Manifesto. I hope you either did or did not take offense to it,
-The Dojo Master