Monthly Archives: April 2008

musicians’ presence on the net

Over on the blog for my own music I have posted about an article on my music over on the guitar section of a general reference site called LoveToKnow.com.

The story happened because the author, Kevin Casper, saw me play at a small bar. He had no reason to know about all the online work related to the music.

But once we got rolling on the interview, all the online work became useful source materials for the story. Kevin browsed my longstanding Flickr stream and found two pictures which he ended up using. He listened to David Battino’s podcast. He linked back to the blog on my music (soupgreens.com) that I set up as an alternative to doing a CD. And the stream of recordings made over time became the viral payoff (from my perspective) of the story: please visit Lucas Gonze’s blog. There you can hear samples of Gonze playing.

It’s not just that this stuff was online. It’s that it was the byproduct of an ongoing existence which you could consider an active resume: Any professional whose work is visible on the Net will become part of the conversation that establishes reputation and creates opportunity. The blog is an active résumé that enables you to participate — by proxy — in that conversation..

A musician isn’t a professional in the same sense, and doesn’t need a resume. But what carries over from the concept of an active resume is the idea that musicians also benefit by leaving a trail of engagement. David Byrne’s blog brings him alive to me and make him matter. He blogs about a smallish local gig (for him): This Wednesday, I’m participating in a benefit concert for St. Ann’s Warehouse, a performance center in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The blog entry draws you into his musical life: I eventually joined the ranks of millions of others who found many of these [20th century pop song] standards moving and beautiful. I often dislike the way they were performed, all schmaltzy and with swing in inappropriate places. I don’t care for Sinatra, for example.

The net is a warmer and more intimate medium than the old album/radio/television axis. Musicians can’t approach the net with the same reserve and distance. Byrne makes himself a part of the new medium by engaging in a direct personal way in each blog post, and by doing it in a ongoing series.


I’m maintaining a separation between my writing about making stuff, which goes here on blog.gonze.com, and my writing about the stuff I made, which goes there on soupgreens.com. I assume that most people interested in the music don’t want inside baseball about working on music, and that most people who want inside baseball about working on music don’t want the music. There’s crossover, but it’s limited.


There are hosting problems at the Soup Greens blog and it’s taking up to 30 seconds to get a page. I use a hosting service called midPhase which has good customer support and administration tools, but which is turning to be not so reliable.

Today’s listening: a blog on Ad Age

My music for the past 20 minutes has been courtesy of an embedded player in the Songs for Soap blog at Advertising Age. The music is courtesy of Adult Swim’s “Ghostly Swim” compilation featuring unreleased tracks from indie label Ghostly International and sponsored by Toyota. That’s five brands even before you get to the musicians, and nobody involved in the project is a major label.

See also the home page for the project, where you can also download a zip file with all the songs together, aka an album in digital packaging.

Portishead packaging

Check out the packaging for the new Portishead release. It feels a lot like an expensive hotel or a spa, and not at all like an MP3.

There’s no CD at all. Instead there is a big-ass 1GB USB key. This contains the music file collection formerly known as an “album” or “CD” or “release”. The remaining free space contains videos of some kind (but what the videos are isn’t said). I love the idea of pre-ripped files, because having to rip my own CD purchases feels like I’m paying for a DIY project, but CD players are still convenient for me sometimes so I want *both* a CD and pre-ripped files.

There is a double vinyl album and, listed separately, an etched 12” vinyl of ‘Machine Gun’. Are these really separate things? Vinyl etching is way cool, anyway. The way it works is that you get the actual wax mold they will pour the vinyl into, then cut a picture out of the wax rather than cutting grooves for a phonograph needle to read. This vinyl etching deal is a way of emphasizing the physicality of what you’re getting for your money. The message is that you’re not buying *bits.” This product is not a crappy way of files onto your iPod, it’s a way of getting close to music you love.

Visuals along the lines of album art in the form of a Limited edition print from Nick Uff. Again, this isn’t a crappy MP3, it’s a whole other thing.

The major economic factor for this release isn’t anything in this listing though; it’s the ten years it took the band to make the music, and the amazing staying power of their prior music. If they only make a release every ten years, the cost of luxuries like vinyl etching is relatively unimportant.

(Thanks to export5000 for the link).

gurdonark manifesto

In a comment on the cut/copy post, gurdonark posted a mini-manifesto on musician’s web presence.

If I were expressing a similar idea, I might try it this way:

  1. music should be hosted and managed on sites controlled by the musicians
  2. sites controlled by musicians need not follow the rigid label/release dynamics of the past
  3. sites controlled by musicians need not be elaborate, but can work like weblogs
  4. in this vision of creative self-expression, the blend of words, images, and music is not a self-conscious form of multi-media, but a natural expression of creativity
  5. the weblogs thus created can be used to market or license music
  6. the weblogs thus created may alternatively succeed if there are listeners/readers, regardless of commercial motive
  7. the ideal net effect is to “get it” about sharing music in ways that traditional media has not “gotten”.

Some of these are already blooming, some are barely germinated. You wouldn’t have a tough time finding music hosted and managed on sites controlled by the musicians, but you’d have a very tough time finding distribution points for those songs, because all the major distribution points require musicians to upload to their servers and won’t distribute music on an external URL.

MILA pattern

Patrick Woodward’s MILA project is an example of how musicians manage their presence on the web.

There is a personal blog post about creating and managing the work at http://www.patwoodward.com/2008/04/mila-album-on-web.html.

There is a page which is a hub for the work itself at http://milamusic.tumblr.com/.

There are a bunch of distribution points for getting the work in front of users and drawing listeners back to the hub, including Myspace and last.fm.

How did he get to this particular setup? He described the basic problem to me like this:

A few weeks ago I played the part, and created a presence on six sites. I was releasing nine songs incrementally and it struck me how inefficient and jumbled this experience was of updating the various presences.

His solution and mine are basically the same. In my case, http://blog.gonze.com/2008/04/15/soup-greens/ is the blog post about the project. http://soupgreens.com/ is the hub site. Spokes being used as distribution points include Myspace and last.fm.

How come there’s a blog post about the making of the music site outside of the music site itself? Because the music is a primary object and talking about the making of it is a distraction.

How come there’s a single hub for the work? Because of how inefficient and jumbled this experience was of updating the various presences.

How come there are multiple distribution points? Because online musicians have to go where the audience is, in the same way that offline musicians perform for different audiences in different venues.

So this seems like a basic pattern that must exist all over the place, and which software for internet musicians can specifically target.

soup greens #2: cut/copy site

One theme of my post about my new musician blog is morphology of musical works. We’re going through a stage where the shape of musical work is changing. There are many new forms competing for attention. For example, there are MP3 review blogs like aurgasm, tightly bound playlist/player combos like Mixwit, loose MP3s stored in the filesystem. Soup Greens‘ position in this landscape has two parts: it suggests that music should be hosted and managed on sites controlled by the musicians, and it suggests that sites controlled by musicians should be a sub-genre of weblogs.

Today I came across a nice variation on the brochure approach at the Cut Copy site. The striking thing about this is the absence of navigational controls. Navigation is limited to scrolling vertically to see what else there is, and most of what you’ll discover by scrolling is in-place within the document. The lack of navigation puts more emphasis on the content and visual design, which is appropriate for a musician site.

soup greens

It’s opening day for Soup Greens, a new blog oriented towards my musical life.

The goals are:

  • To improve viral uptake from live shows by giving people something to take away that can bring them back again.
  • To make booking gigs easier by having a comprehensive resource to show to bookers.
  • To get gigs as a sideman by having a standard URL which leads to samples of my playing.
  • To simplify the work of distributing music online via sites like Facebook by having a centralized distribution point that I can link back to from third party sites.
  • To own the digital identity and preferred URL for my musical work rather than letting third parties like Myspace own it.

This is the end of a long bootstrapping process, but at the beginning there was only one simple requirement. I was doing gigs and needed a way for people to take home music, primarily because I needed the shows to have more viral impact. The old school way to do this kind of thing would be a CD, meaning that the new site is a replacement for a CD in a lot of ways.

The really really old school way to approach the whole thing would be to sell CDs. I’d push to get them into stores, attempt to get them onto the radio, and attempt to sell them at shows. It took about two minutes to rule this out. For the purposes of viral spread, charging money would eliminate most of the people I wanted to reach. The money I could earn was negligible. Radio is an uncrackable nut and doesn’t matter anyway. Manufacturing would be a monumental pain in the ass. Distribution woul be a drag. And most of the CDs would end up in a box in my closet.

Then I figured I would low-ball the manufacturing costs with a barebones package and give the CD away for free at the shows. After I costed it out, though, that was a non-starter. The CDs would cost no less than a buck apiece and closer to $2 after you count in excess inventory. Most of these expensive freebies would end up in the trash before they got listened to. The response rate would be too low to return my costs. Free downloads have virtually no incremental costs, but free CDs certainly do, and I’d never break even with this approach.

My next idea was digital distribution at shows. I figured I would bring a USB stick and offer to let anybody make a copy who wanted one. In this end this wasn’t a bad method, it just wasn’t going to accomplish much. Partly that’s because not a lot of people bring laptops to rock bars. But also it’s because there is no way to get people to go from a raw MP3 back to my web site, where I could get them to go to future shows, book me, or invite me to sit in. You can’t do an effective upsell from an MP3.

Lastly I looked into doing a good Myspace page. You can see my attempt at that on the Myspace page for Alvin and Lucille, a jazz act I did last year. One problem I had there was that I couldn’t abide Myspace’s technical problems; the MP3s often cut off midway through or don’t load at all, the MP3 links aren’t exposed, and the Flash player just doesn’t work very well. The other problem is that Myspace would then own my identity and I’d have to either duplicate all that work on other social networks or stick with only Myspace.

So I started on a new web site of my own under the assumption that I could hand out cards with the URL at gigs. The card would be dirt cheap to print, cheap enough that I could afford to give them away. They would be convenient for people at the shows, who could stick one in their pocket and take it home without needing a laptop; URLs are incredibly lightweight to carry around. When they got home the card would be a reminder of what they saw, so would help with memory. And anybody who went to the site would be able to join a mailing list, send an email, or add me to their Myspace friend list.

The first problem was compelling content. Musicians’ sites are usually boring, stale, vain, and link-poor.

To fix the boringness I copied BoingBoing and expanded the scope of the blog to tangential fun stuff, including a post about buying shoes from the civil war reenactment scene, a post about hoop skirts, and a post about the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

My biggest inspiration was Jon Udell’s blogging about his hometown of Keane, NH. This gave me the idea to blog about my entire scene rather than just about my own music, which is why I wrote the post about a ragtime pianist I met at a show and the post with songs by Madame Pamita. Jon’s witing about local life also let me feel comfortable with orienting myself towards completely meatspace goals. In the same way that nobody ever got laid on the net, nobody ever played virtual music, and in this project I didn’t care in any way about getting famous on the internet. My music is about being with people in the real world.

The other inspiration was Jonathan Coulton’s site for his own music, which is a lively place to hang out because it has a human presence and social tools. What I copied from him was the idea that a genuine blog would be the framework, rather than something with the brochure vibe you get from conventional musician sites. If I were marketing a hosting service for musicians I’d probably do the same, but for my own music I didn’t want to end up looking like this or this.

The last and hardest problem in all of this was identity. I’ve been doing tech blogging for more than five years now, so when I sent people I met while playing over to my established digital persona they got a bunch of technical gobbledigook and little music. The natural answer was to come up with a band name. Over the last six months I experimented with 7-8 different ones, including “Patsy the Barber”, “Slobbery Jim”, “The Soup Greens”, and “Alvin Pleasant.” Some of these were good, but none of them really worked because my true name is the most natural handle for me. The solution was to create a dedicated name for the music blog but use my own name as the blogger. That’s why the new blog is called “Soup Greens” and the tagline says “by Lucas Gonze.” This is a common pattern with blogs and I think it will work.

Next up I need to get viral spread going. It has to be a lot easier to sign up, subscribe, take away a widget, whatever. Also I need to print out something to put in people’s hands at shows. And the site still has plenty of usability problems. So I’m not done by a long shot. What I have accomplished is to break through all the fundamental issues; what I haven’t accomplished is anything that I can tackle incrementally.

I had a lot of fun making it, and I hope you dig it.

myspace #2: above all, suck less

I spoke too soon about being happy with my Myspace profile because I had reduced it to a carrier for links back to sites that I own. Myspace has disabled the link from there to here with a stern warning that You have reached a link that is no longer in service. That means the link was very naughty, and, much like head lice, had to be eliminated before it spread. The explanation is that this site is spam, phishing or malware. There’s no help link or method to appeal, so this is not reversible. Myspace users can’t link to this site.

Tip to Myspace security team: above all, suck less. I understand that you have to deal with security threats to Myspace users, but this means you have to be skilled and clever, not clumsy and stupid. I am not an attacker, I am a user. By turning your malware detectors up so high that they mis-categorized this vanilla wordpress install as a malware site, your detectors are causing damage to the application.

It’s a tribute to Myspace’s few strengths that they can be so staggeringly bad at their work and stay on top of the social networking field.


Update: I added a redirecting intermediary to the link and Myspace isn’t yet blocking it. If their mis-designed software isn’t also mis-implemented, though, it will catch up. Not that this time delay means that a real attacker could easily stay ahead of Myspace’s crawler; it’s only non-attackers who get caught in the trap.


To learn more about Myspace’s security strategy here, see Netcraft’s blog on msplinks.com:

MySpace started using the msplinks.com site last year, in a bid to protect its users against spamming and phishing attacks. When users added a link into MySpace, the URL would be replaced with a link to msplinks.com, which would then redirect to the intended URL. This gave MySpace greater control over the links that originated from their site, allowing them to disable the links if they are found to point to spam, viruses or phishing sites.

zero maintenance always fresh

Musicians have to have a Myspace page. It’s not optional. And it has to be at least halfway decent, because people are going to look for you there. Getting booked means a lot of schmoozing with other musicians, schmoozing with musicians means friending a bunch of bands on Myspace, and friending means that people go to your page.

And you need other social network identies as well. The more social networks you can manage, the more distribution you’ll get and the more presence you’ll have.

You can’t do a decent job on a Myspace profile without steady maintenance. You can’t do a decent job on *any* network without steady maintenance.

So what’s a player to do? My solution on Myspace is to trim everything dynamic out of my profile. For comments, friend lists, and messaging I link to in-network pages that are generated by the server. For blog posts I link to off-network blogs that I own and can point to from other social networks as well. For music I embed a Flash player which uses a playlist that I can load from other social networks.

Check it out: the zero-maintenance but always fresh Myspace page.

a good sign for racial politics

In a comment on the racial politics post, Mike Linksvayer writes:

The percentage of marriages in the US that are black/white has increased by something like a factor of three since 1970. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18090277/

Interracial marriages are still a small fraction of the total, but growth shows no sign of abating.

And indeed, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18090277/ is a story titled “After 40 years, interracial marriage flourishing”, which gives the beautiful news that Since landmark 1967 ruling, unions have moved from radical to everyday:

The number of interracial marriages has soared; for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005, according to Census Bureau figures.

Factoring in all racial combinations, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld calculates that more than 7 percent of America’s 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2 percent in 1970.

What a positive sign! I feel a lot more hopeful about the situation. And 7% isn’t just just 3.5 times greater than before, it’s a number that compounds over the generations. I’d consider this a litmus test for acceptable racial politics — when most black or white Americans whose family has been here more than a couple generations are mixed black and white, things are not so fucked up.