jasonphoenix Jason Phoenix: 2014 In Review

12.31.2014

2014 In Review

2014 was an interesting year for me, although this website does not reflect much of the events properly.

Half of my year was extremely busy, caught up in the same pursuits I have been working on for twenty years; creating, producing, and promoting music & music events.

Only a few days after New Years 2014, an acquaintance of mine, Michael Packard who produced music & DJ'ed as Dreadheaded Slut was found dead, last seen at a New Year's Eve event.  I did not know him as a close personal friend, but I had been following his work, and had high hopes for him.  I had mic'd his acoustic guitar at Open Mic, plugged his DJ equipment in, listened to his productions, pointed him out to EDM promoters as someone to watch.

It was a shock to find out that someone so young and full of potential was gone, and would make music no more.  It was a blessing to see so many people who he had touched with his enthusiasm and actions, so many of my friends and associates coming together to remember his brief life.

I continued my work from 2013 with a band called SOBRIQUET, established ties between them and a management company that I used to work with, providing tour management & sound engineering for their live gigs, and I worked with them as a Producer on their follow up album to Kids of the Night, an EP I produced with them in 2013.

From October 2013 to April 2014, I was directly engaged with the band as they practiced and wrote songs, from using WhateverForever's space in SeedCo to practice to creating a basement studio at a house near Kansas University.  I used Ableton Live extensively to record their demos, in order to help define and refine their songwriting before heading into the studio for principal recording.

In March, while I was in the middle of prepping the demos for SOBRIQUET's recording, I was asked to join a group of people going to Denver, Colorado.  Their goal was to look into potential industry opportunities in recreational cannabis, having been made legal in January.  I traveled with them, observing, asking questions, and taking notes.

As a long-time advocate for reforming US laws on cannabis & hemp, it was a revelation for me to see so many positive effects from recreational legalization, and to see so many people benefitting directly and greatly from this small change.

Right after this, I was able to attend South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, meeting lots of people within the industry as well as reconnecting with other artists.  I was also able to see St. Vincent perform at Stubb's, see Dub FX live, an Evol Intent DJ set & stand feet away from Talib Kweli at a private performance.

In April, SOBRIQUET went into WestEnd Studios to record, and I was able to bring my friend Mikel Giffin on board as a co-producer & engineer to oversee the project.  Principle recording wrapped, and Mikel returned to Los Angeles to work over the material.

Unfortunately in June and July, relationships within the band became strained, and SOBRIQUET broke up, reforming into Tree Machines.  After the breakup, I was informed that my services as a Producer would no longer be needed; Mikel & the remaining members would continue working on the album, with a release eyed to late 2014.

Just as SOBRIQUET's personnel problems were becoming apparent in June, I was engaged in scoring the soundtrack for a film called God Grant Me.  I became acquainted with William Friederich and Jesse McGinness while working on SOBRIQUET's album in 2013, and I lent them some advice on sound engineering for their film.

They later asked me to work on the soundtrack for their movie, and I was able to recommend they use Doug Wooldridge of SOBRIQUET for their ADR process.  I spent many months in late 2013 through 2014 watching & rewatching the film, crafting pieces of music and working on thematics.

In the end, only one of the works I recorded for God Grant Me was selected, and thanked for my work.  I was told there was no time for rework or re-recording.  Months later, I learned the majority of the remaining music composed by Noah Compo, member of local Lawrence band Spirit is the Spirit.  I was able to attend its hometown premier, and am glad to say I found Noah's work fit the scenes well, and was glad to see the project completed.

And so it was that halfway through the year that I found myself with a surplus of free time and no viable projects beyond my own whims.  I had been paid for my work, and promised credit.  I had made connections for people and all benefitted because of them.

I had been able to invest in material and equipment for my own music and art.  I had online entities and channels ready to distribute my music, my artwork, my words.  All I had to do was capture and release.

I became seriously depressed.

I kept doing all of the things that I do, working on pieces of music, playing guitar, creating artwork and manipulating it digitally & physically.  I worked on several works of fiction and wrote essays on current events.

But the motivation to release any of that work or promote myself was absent.  Sounds created and were not recorded.  Images were projected and not committed to video.  Stories remain unfinished.

Seven years ago while talking to a friend and complaining about this or that aspect of the music industry, she told me I was selfish, and that if I wanted to do better, I should make other's dreams come true with my knowledge.  I should learn what makes a successful artist through making artists I believe in successful.

Over the last seven years I have learned all that I could about how to make a musical act or a promotion company profitable and to promote either artists or events to both fans and the market that buys talent successfully.

The acts I had assisted as a stage manager or as a sound engineer to set up their gear & made sure their performances went without a hitch played bigger and bigger gigs and made more and more fans.

The acts on my watch-list before and after my stints in promotions & management had increased their fortunes and I watched their videos & successes on YouTube as happily as when I had stood watching backstage.  Acts I had talked to ten years ago on MySpace and admired then have managed to become well known and respected even as MySpace turned into digital dust & cobwebs.

After the end of seven years of work, I know exactly what makes an artist successful in the music industry, and yet I cannot say that this knowledge has made me a successful artist one bit.

The closest truth of the music industry I could say today as opposed to seven years ago would be to butcher the context of Matthew 13:12: "For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him."

Much like mansions and expensive exotic locales, the music industry is great as long as you can afford to live there.  Everyone without existing means of suppory is either a guest of someone's good graces, or works as hired help behind the scenes.

If that truism of the Music Industry is too dense or depressing, I can offer the alternative: "Build a better Mousetrap, and the World* will beat a Path** to your Door."

*World referring to the existing world of mousetrap makers, and 
**Path meaning they will alternatively try to buy the rights to your innovation, take a percentage by hiring you as a collaborator, or sue you out of existence.
Its not a hopeless situation.  There were many examples of people managing to make a living outside of the mainstream music industry in 2014.

There has been no dearth of music in film, videogames, advertisements, TV shows, numerous streaming services, seen on more devices and places than ever.  People neither of us have ever heard of made good amounts of money making YouTube videos in 2014 and selling music on BandCamp.

And, as sales of physical albums decrease, anyone stands a far better chance of getting a good chart placement by only selling a few hundred thousand CD's than ever before.

While one could deem my statements as bitterness for my own shortcomings, I ask you to keep in mind that for fifteen years I've been working in electronic music culture, watching it go from illegal and ill-suited venues to stadiums, from vinyl-only to CDJ's to a Mac laptop on every stage.
 
In that time I've seen thousands of DJ's of varying skill levels and abilities and resources at events put on by promotion companies of varying skill levels and resources with my own eyes.

And I can say as an eyewitness that today those few people with trust funds & diversified revenue sources are the ones playing massive stages for the same multinational corporations that were selling grunge & boybands in the 90's.

I can look out over a decade and think of only four examples of producers who entered actual mainstream recognition without compromising their sound or their talent:  DangerMouse (who apologized profusely throughout his DJ set at Bonnaroo '04 while playing brilliant music--and couldn't even legally say "The Grey Album"), Deadmau5 (who was just an asshole with a clever marketing gimmick on MySpace in '04), Bassnectar (whose crowd almost collapsed the smallest stage at Wakarusa in '04), and Flying Lotus (who was just getting started).

Amazingly, I've been able to see all these artists with my own eyes, and live vicariously through their successes.  But I cannot help but think of the far higher numbers of crap artists, blowhards, and scene biters that have likewise managed to be promoted and regarded just as highly, whose logos have ended up anchoring fliers and boosting attendance for events thrown by multinational conglomerates.  Likewise, I cannot help but think of those thousands of other talents that never even made it that far, all talent and determination besides.

It is with that understanding that I have been looking at my own trajectory, and wonder at whether the last seven years would have been better spent selfishly, focused on myself.  That said, I can also look at six months where I could have worked for myself in perfect selfishness, and yet did not.

As one who has constantly pursued experiences over wealth or stability, I can tell you that I do not regret the things I have done; rather I regret the things I have not yet done.

However, this year provided me with some fitting bookends, some necessary confirmation of the things I did right, and reminders on what really matters to me, reasons why I do what I do regardless of perceived success or failure.

Three things from 2014 stand out for me above the rest, the memories I will take into 2015 with hope that they will grow.

One was an unexpected visit to the Denver Art Museum.  I woke up on the second to last day in Denver, showered, had a phone call with my friends in SOBRIQUET, and right after was told to quickly grab everything out of the hotel room and have it stowed with the front desk.  No one had retained our rooms for the weekend, even though I had placed a hold on them on their behalf.

With that information and my possessions locked in an office, I was left with a group of interns while the more important members of the expedition were to be shuttled to the airport.  I asked the remaining people what their plans were; they wanted to smoke weed.  I decided to take a walk to downtown Denver.

I walked due west down Colfax, and I marveled at the Court, the Capitol building, and found myself thinking that these buildings could last for a thousand years, even as ruins.  Great works, meant to last the duration of time.

Across from the equally impressive Public Library, I found myself staring at another beautiful but strange building rising above the municipal buildings like a strange abstraction of the Rocky mountains.  This turned out to be the Denver Art Museum, which I entered, wide eyed.

It also turned out to be the opening day of an exhibition on the Masters of Modern Art, available to be viewed for only a few more dollars than general admission.  I was unburdened of my coat & bag in a locker after being assisted by a security guard concerned about my coffee cup, and increasingly feeling lighter than air, I was able to view works by people's whose names and works I have studied.

I saw works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Titian, Frieda Kahlo, Salvador Dali, De Kooning, Pollack, Rothko, Warhol, and Lichtenstein.  I got to the end of the exhibit and asked if I had to leave, or if I could go back, and the pleasantly surprised attendant encouraged me to stay for as long as I wanted, with a huge grin. I went back and studied them from distance and close up.

And I came away with a realization I have not been able to shake since, the idea that for all my critiques of my own work in visual arts, that there is something in my lines and curves that is eminently worthwhile, worth creating, worth displaying.

That for all those moments something so small has been cause for irritation to the point of avoiding showing a piece to anyone, that perhaps having looked at the flaws and details of those far greater, my work still holds up.

The second thing that I carry with me is the feeling I had when I first turned on my projector, loaded up the videos that I had shot & edited myself, and manipulated them in a software program.  I stood, watching my artwork flooding a room with light and pixels, and couldn't stop grinning.

The last thing I will take from 2014 was seeing the many people that stood in memory of Michael Packard.  Sound engineers, flier jockeys, event promoters, DJ's, musicians all speaking to the effect of one man's life just from interacting with him, and for only a brief time.

We had thrown the events he'd attended, he'd worked in the same venues we did, he'd helped flier and promote the same shows I had.  We saw the stickers with his logo everywhere in Lawrence and a few places in Kansas City.  Seeing the effect on community I am a part of made me realize how much my own life is invested and wrapped up in same.

It is harder for me today to tell where the future lies than it was for me to say where the future was headed ten years ago.  The only consolation has been knowing how much of the present I was able to accurately predict, and the greatest frustration has been how often I was right.

Going into a new year, I have only the continued desire to keep creating, to keep experiencing, to keep pushing new sounds and images into the world.

To repeat my mantra from earlier in the year, done is better than perfect. Done is better than perfect. Done is better than perfect.